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Gov. Charlie Baker has agreed that the state will pay $56 million to the families of veterans who contracted COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in the spring of 2020, one of the nation’s worst outbreaks of the virus. 

Families of 84 veterans who died from COVID will each receive a minimum of $400,000, with an average payment of $500,000, according to lawyers who brought the federal lawsuit in July 2020. The lawsuit on the veterans’ behalf was filed in July 2020, arguing that the Commonwealth “failed in its promise and obligation to care for those veterans.” 

Gov. Baker plans to file legislation seeking $56 million for the claims fund in the coming weeks, according to a statement from his office. 

“No amount of money can bring back the veterans who died or erase the pain and suffering that this tragedy needlessly caused those veterans and their families,” said Thomas Lesser, who represented the families, along with partner Michael Aleo, in a statement. “But justice required that those wrongs not go unaddressed. This settlement recognizes that the tragedy was preventable and never should have happened.” 

Daily News


The state Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would legalize sports betting in the Commonwealth, but prohibit wagering on college sports. 

The legislation was narrower than the version the House passed last summer, which allowed for betting on both professional and college sports.  

If signed into law, the new gambling program would bring in a projected $35 million in annual revenue to the state, according to Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michel Rodrigues. 

Passage of the measure sets up negotiation between the two chambers before the end of the formal session in July. 

The Senate measure prohibits the use of credit cards to place bets, allows people to set limits on how much money, and how often, they gamble, and addresses compulsive and problem gambling. 

Features

The Future of Work

By Mark Morris

State Sen. Eric Lesser

State Sen. Eric Lesser says the pandemic accelerated a number of work trends that were already in motion.

Topics like ‘the future of work’ can often sound like a lofty concept, something that’s years or even decades away from the present.

But to state Sen. Eric Lesser, the future of work has already arrived.

Lesser and state Rep. Josh Cutler co-chaired a commission on the future of work and recently released its final report.

The commission came to be after Lesser authored and filed legislation back in 2019 to address the rapid changes that are happening in workplaces across the state. From increased automation and robotics to international trade policies, all these factors affect the economy and the lives of workers in Massachusetts. The arrival of COVID-19 only accelerated and intensified these economic changes.

“The idea was to take a peek over the horizon, to look beyond COVID to see what a worker’s experience will be over the next five to 10 years, and how we can prepare for that,” Lesser said.

The legislation was signed into law in January 2021 by Gov. Charlie Baker as part of an economic-development bill. Lesser called the commission “diverse in every sense,” with members representing the private sector, the public sector, labor, and academia. Members of the commission also hailed from every region of Massachusetts.

“We gathered a group of people with a diverse set of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives,” Lesser said. “It was important to reach consensus by considering all our viewpoints.”

A major finding of the commission’s report discusses how every type of worker is facing some new level of technology integration into their jobs. Lesser gave an example of a restaurant server who once needed only a pad and pen to take dinner orders.

“The idea was to take a peek over the horizon, to look beyond COVID to see what a worker’s experience will be over the next five to 10 years, and how we can prepare for that.”

“Now many restaurants have software programs to keep track of orders, payments, and reservations,” he said. “We’re seeing this type of technology integration in jobs across industries.”

In order to qualify for jobs that use ever-changing technology, training workers for current and future jobs becomes essential.

“One finding in the report said the state of Massachusetts has to train or retrain 30,000 to 40,000 workers a year just to keep up with all the workplace changes,” Lesser said. “That’s more than double our current capacity at the MassHire Workforce Training Center.”

On top of all the challenges on the job, another key finding addressed work-adjacent issues that affect workers off the job and impact family stability. Escalating costs for childcare and housing are among the top work-adjacent concerns.

“Private childcare in Massachusetts is $8,000 higher than the national average,” Lesser said. As a byproduct of COVID, the price of houses and rents are soaring, which forces people to live further away from their workplaces and exacerbates another concern — transportation.

 

So, What’s the Answer?

While it’s easy to list all the issues confronting workers in Massachusetts, Lesser said the report also provides recommendations to guide legislation going forward to address these concerns and make life better for workers in the state.

“The idea is to integrate the findings and perspectives of the report into everything the state does,” he noted, giving examples of upcoming legislation on healthcare and economic development where the Future of Work report aided in drafting the bills.

The most pressing area where the report can influence workplace policies involves putting a focus on equity and inclusion to make sure no one is left behind. The report reveals serious roadblocks to finding meaningful work, which Lesser wants to see addressed.

“More than one-third of families in Springfield do not own a laptop or desktop computer,” he noted. “Today, nearly every employer requires the first application be done electronically, so right off the bat it locks out a whole population of people.”

The report also suggests an increase in language training for non-English speakers, which would make it easier for immigrants to join the workforce instead of being held back by language skills.

“Predictions are that today’s worker will have 12 different jobs over the course of their work career. That number will only increase five to 10 years from now, so the notion of training for a job once is really obsolete.”

While the report is future-focused, Lesser quickly pointed out that traditional models for successful careers are already out of touch with the demands of today’s workforce. The old model where workers learned a craft or students went to college and then joined the workforce for the next 45 years without much change rarely happens these days.

“Predictions are that today’s worker will have 12 different jobs over the course of their work career,” he said. “That number will only increase five to 10 years from now, so the notion of training for a job once is really obsolete.”

To adjust to a world that keeps changing at a faster pace, the report recommends an emphasis on “stackable credentials” for workers, with constant, specific training keeping them current and promotable.

“By acquiring skills that stack on top of each other, workers can move up the skill ladder, move up the income ladder, and build out a fulfilling career as a result,” Lesser explained.

As technology demands in the workplace keep advancing, the workforce itself is aging, especially in Massachusetts. Baby Boomers are staying on the job longer than previous generations, partly for financial reasons and because technology has lessened the physical demands of work. Lesser said it’s important to consider the needs of an aging workforce from several perspectives, including work-adjacent issues.

“It’s not surprising to see workers dealing with childcare and elder care for their parents,” Lesser said. “The work culture hasn’t really accounted for that type of situation because it’s a more recent consideration.”

All these issues are called out in the report to enable the state to have information on what’s needed to help workers in the years ahead, he added. “The state needs to do its part to make sure all these work-adjacent issues are considered when planning the future of work.”

 

Strong Foundation

While all these issues and concerns can sound dramatic and overwhelming, Lesser said it’s important to remember all the contributions made by the Massachusetts economy and its workers. Early development of COVID vaccines, as well as many breakthroughs in life sciences and new technologies, are just some of the innovations the state can claim.

“We are well-positioned to benefit from all these changes because we have a highly skilled workforce, great educational institutions, and leadership in many fields,” he noted.

Looking ahead, Massachusetts has a positive story to tell. Lesser said the next challenge is to make sure “this booming engine of a state” includes all communities.

“As a result of all the changes in the workplace, we are making contributions to the world. Now we want to make sure we continue to do this without leaving people behind in the process.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College has received $30 million in state funding to move healthcare programs out of an aging building on campus that has outlived its usefulness.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced the award on Wednesday. College officials in December asked the state for the maximum amount of $30 million to vacate Building 20, which houses 18 degree and certificate allied health programs as well as the acclaimed SIMS Medical Center. STCC has secured $11.5 million from other sources for the $41.5 million project.

The award announced by the governor comes from the state Division of Capital Management and Maintenance (DCAMM).

Constructed in 1941, Building 20 is past its useful life and has a history of expensive emergency repairs. The healthcare programs in the School of Health and Patient Simulation educate more than 700 students per semester and employ more than 120 faculty and staff.

“We offer our thanks to Governor Baker, Lieutenant Governor (Karyn) Polito and Education Secretary (James) Peyser for investing in the future of healthcare and workforce development in such an impactful way,” said STCC President John Cook. “This has been a true team effort between the administration, trustees, our legislative delegation and the STCC Foundation.”

The STCC Board of Trustees committed $6 million from the college’s budget to the project. Trustees Chair Marikate Murren said, “We’re thrilled and grateful to Gov. Baker and DCAMM for their support to make this move possible. The relocation of the programs in the School of Health and Patient Simulation will allow STCC to continue to prepare students for healthcare careers. The investment in this project represents an investment in the City of Springfield and the region.”

To best summarize the outlook for the College, Cook said, “I am delighted for our students and faculty as this ensures that STCC stays on the leading edge of healthcare education; the future of STCC is bright.”

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Andrew Surprise

Andrew Surprise says Palmer has looked into several family-friendly attractions to draw more people to town.

Three years ago, when Ryan McNutt took the job as Palmer’s town manager, he observed that, when people entered town from Mass Pike exit 8 (now exit 63), they encountered a Big Y World Class Market, a McDonald’s, a couple of other businesses, and lots of empty parcels all around them on Thorndike Street.

“You don’t typically see this near a turnpike exit; it’s usually built out with commercial real estate,” he said, adding that town residents — and those passing through — may soon see the landscape change in a meaningful way.

Indeed, McNutt has been working with other town officials and with landowners to take advantage of the considerable opportunities these empty lots present.

“The landowners have met with several national chains, and I can now share that one of the projects will be a Starbucks coffee shop,” he said.

Linda Leduc, the town planner and Economic Development director, is working on finding a retail tenant and a sit-down restaurant to join the planned Starbucks. She said turning these chronically vacant sites on Thorndike Street into vital businesses gives a big boost to Palmer residents.

“Just seeing the cleanup happen on two of the lots we’re developing is getting people excited,” she added.

Far from a scattershot approach, these commercial developments are part of a master plan the town compiled and published at the end of 2020. McNutt said this is the first master plan for Palmer since 1975.

“We had an amazing amount of public input on the plan,” he noted. “When you put the meetings on Zoom, more people show up.”

The plan addresses commercial, residential, and protected open space in Palmer. McNutt said it helps prioritize the “low-hanging fruit” where the town should put its energy now, as well as projects that can be done later. The master plan lists 20 underdeveloped sites in Palmer, 12 of which are in the process of being developed or close to that point.

“Instead of getting off the pike and just driving through, there are going to be lots of opportunities for people to stop and spend money in Palmer,” Leduc said.

 

Right Place, Right Time?

One significant potential development area is known as ‘the hill.’

As drivers exit from the turnpike, they are immediately confronted by a large hill at the end of the exit ramp. On top of the hill are nearly 100 acres of land available for development. The hill was once the proposed site for a casino until voters in Palmer rejected those plans. Recently, the Town Council approved a zone change that made an adjacent 78-acre parcel available for business use and further incentivize a large-scale project for the land.

“We’ve always seen interest in development of the hill,” said McNutt, adding that there is optimism that interest may soon turn into progress and some recognized needs met.

“With the tourism guide, we’re hoping to entice some of the folks who go to Brimfield to check out antique shops, vintage shops, and other boutique retailers in Palmer. The idea is to create a trail, similar to brewery trails.”

One priority residents have shared with him involves bringing another supermarket to Palmer. Big Y has been a stalwart in town for many years and has contributed to various community efforts.

“Big Y is a great company, and they are a great partner, but residents would like to have some other options,” McNutt said. “It’s what I’m hearing the most from people in Palmer.”

Closer to downtown, a recent zone change to the former Converse Middle School has drawn both interest and concern. Andrew Surprise, CEO of the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce, said the more business-friendly zone change has drawn interest from a company that would convert the school to an Esports Arena, where video-game players of all levels could compete against others.

“In the New England area, there’s really nothing like this,” said Surprise. “There are some at colleges like UMass Amherst, but those are geared to students on campus rather than the general public.”

The Esports Arena is one of several ideas to bring family-friendly attractions to Palmer. According to Surprise, the town has looked into a water park, a trampoline park, and other attractions.

Linda Leduc

Linda Leduc says turning chronically vacant sites on Thorndike Street into vital businesses is a development priority.

“I believe the town will do a feasibility study at some point for the Esports idea as there’s still much to do to make sure the residents approve of it or any other proposed use,” he said.

Through a MassDevelopment program know as the Transformative Development Initiative, Surprise is working on other ways to attract businesses to Palmer. The Vacant Downtown Storefront Program is one that may have some promise for the downtown area. “It provides grant funding for a business to renovate a storefront if they plan to open there,” he explained.

Meanwhile, as interest in more retail grows, another aspect of the town’s economy, tourism and hospitality, is poised for a resurgence after two long years of the pandemic.

Indeed, for the past two years, Surprise has held off publishing the chamber’s tourism guide and visitors directory. The pandemic led to frequent changes and cancellations to event schedules, making publishing the guide seem futile.

Businesses are now contacting Surprise because they want to get their names and events out to the public once again. The new guide is scheduled to be complete by early May and available to the crowds attending the Brimfield Antique Flea Market in mid-May.

“With the tourism guide, we’re hoping to entice some of the folks who go to Brimfield to check out antique shops, vintage shops, and other boutique retailers in Palmer,” he said. “The idea is to create a trail, similar to brewery trails.”

Speaking of breweries, Surprise said Palmer and other towns in the chamber are looking to host a brewery in their community.

“Even though there are lots of breweries in the general area, we have our eyes open for anyone who wants to open a brewery to see if we can help them with any incentives,” he noted.

 

Bridges to the Future

To make Palmer more economically viable, the master plan suggests ensuring proper infrastructure is in place. Two main bridges in town, located on Church Street and Main Street, are both in need of replacing. MassDOT closed the Church Street Bridge in 2019 while the Main Street bridge had minor repairs which will keep it safe for vehicular traffic. The town will soon erect a truss bridge to use while a new Church Street bridge is built.

“The state said it will use some of their infrastructure funding to fully replace the Church Street bridge, but that could take up to five years,” McNutt said. “The truss bridge allows us to keep the bridge open to traffic.”

In MassDOT terms, the Main Street bridge is not in imminent danger, but the town does need to replace it in the future. McNutt said the plan right now is to use the truss bridge on Church Street, then move it to Main Street once the permanent Church Street bridge is complete.

With passage of the federal infrastructure bill, McNutt remains optimistic about the proposed east-west rail proposal across Massachusetts. Currently, the state has three alternative configurations for the rail project, with a stop in Palmer included in all three. McNutt said he’s hopeful that remains the case and looks forward to talking with the state once it is ready to proceed.

“Obviously, this would be transformative for Palmer,” he said, adding that a rail stop will serve to make the town an even more attractive option for new retail and hospitality-related businesses.

Nearly two-thirds of housing in Palmer consists of single-family homes, higher than the state and county averages of just below 60%. McNutt said town leaders are working to attract more permanent housing development for the community.

To that end, work will soon begin on a 200-cottage development at Forest Lake. The plan calls for seasonal cottages that will have water and sewer services. McNutt estimates that, when complete, the cottages will add nearly $800,000 to the tax base in Palmer.

On the other side of Forest Lake, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game plans to build a new boat launch, parking lot, and ADA-accessible fishing pier so people of all abilities can enjoy the water. McNutt estimates the state project and the cottages are about two years away from completion.

“I feel like we’re finally getting to the point where Palmer is going to see lots of great things happening that residents and visitors will be able to enjoy,” Leduc said.

 

 

Bottom Line

Everywhere he goes in town, McNutt carries a copy of the economic-development chapter of the master plan.

“This way, when someone has a question about what we’re doing, I can show them in the plan how we want to create destination locations for them and for folks who have never been here,” he said.

With the proposed east-west rail and a lower cost of living compared to Eastern Mass., McNutt believes Palmer has the right location at the right time, and can take a meaningful step forward in terms of growth and prosperity.

“We’re going to position Palmer as an attractive place to live,” he said, adding that it can, and hopefully will, also become an attractive place for businesses of all kinds to plant roots.

Opinion

Editorial

 

It’s easy to understand why members of the Springfield City Council were not happy with the way the recent request for $6.5 million in emergency funding for the Court Square Development project came to them.

It arrived late and in the form of an ultimatum of sorts: ‘approve this additional expenditure immediately, or this important project will die.’ One of those officials involved with the now $64 million project hinted strongly that if the money was not approved, and quickly, the building would deteriorate and perhaps even collapse.

The 11th-hour request, which came on the heels of skyrocketing construction costs that are impacting development projects of all kinds across the country, should have come at the 10th hour or even the ninth. Those leading the project, which will bring 71 market-rate apartments, retail space, and a restaurant to downtown Springfield, knew costs were escalating and knew they would need additional assistance to keep the initiative on track.

They put the council on the spot, unnecessarily — so much so that a resolution was recently passed requiring the mayor’s office to give the council 30 days’ notice on any economic-development issue that needs council approval.

Fortunately, most members of the council put aside their concerns about how all this went down and did the right thing. They voted to approve the measure and enable the much-needed project to move forward.

There were some questions as to just how much this project is needed, but the majority of the council could see how the importance of the initiative to the future of the city.

We’ve said it many times, and others have said it many times as well: one of the real keys moving forward is to balance the many people working downtown with those who actually call that area home.

This has been a formula for success in many cities, including Lowell, Worcester, Hartford, and many others, and it will be a key ingredient for Springfield moving forward, especially if current trends continue and there are fewer people actually coming to work each day in the city’s downtown.

In those other cities, a critical mass of people living in a downtown has spawned new service and hospitality businesses, which, in turn, have promoted more people to want to live in those areas, which, in turn, has prompted more businesses, which attract more people … you get the idea.

The Court Square project, which has been talked about for decades, literally, and has come to fruition through a unique public-private partnership, isn’t the answer. But it’s part of the answer, just as MGM Springfield, a revitalized Tower Square and White Lion Brewing, the Springfield Thunderbirds, Union Station, new housing in the old Willys-Overland property on Chestnut Street, and other developments are parts of the answer.

And that’s why it was so important for the council to look past the nature of this request and, as we said, do the right thing.

For Springfield, and the region, this was an important step forward.

Franklin County Special Coverage

Lighting the Way

 

 

Yankee Candle has long been a national and even global powerhouse in the scented-candle business, but the company will always have special appeal in Western Mass., where Michael Kittredge launched it more than a half-century ago. That appeal is partly — perhaps largely — due to Yankee Candle Village, which has become a significant attraction over the years, one that continues to raise the profile of Deerfield and other Franklin County destinations.

 

By Mark Morris

 

Yankee Candle Village may be best-known for its Christmas-themed displays around the holidays, Wade Bassett sees plenty of promise in the spring as well for a company — and tourist destination — that holds year-round appeal, especially as COVID-19 numbers continue to trend downward.

Bassett is the director of Sales and Operations at the Village, Yankee Candle’s flagship store located in Deerfield. Additionally, the company maintains a manufacturing facility in Whately, a distribution center in South Deerfield, and its flagship store on Route 5. Year-round employment totals nearly 600 people, and as the manufacturing and retail operations get busier for the holidays, the number of employees can reach as high as 750.

During the pandemic, staff at Yankee Candle Village incorporated extra cleaning protocols and made sure to always have masks for anyone who requested one. Bassett said the focus remains on providing a safe and worry-free shopping experience for guests who are looking forward to getting out and celebrating traditions with family and friends.

“We’re seeing daycationers, people who aren’t ready to jump on a plane yet. Instead, they are spending time visiting local attractions like Yankee Candle Village.”

“We’re seeing daycationers, people who aren’t ready to jump on a plane yet,” he said. “Instead, they are spending time visiting local attractions like Yankee Candle Village.”

Wade Bassett

Wade Bassett says Yankee Candle’s relationships with the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Springfield CVB, and local businesses have driven traffic to the site.

He credited the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau for keeping Yankee Candle Village top of mind as a key regional destination. “Their efforts focus on a collaborative approach to drive traffic and tourism to the area, and we couldn’t be prouder of our partnership with both of them.”

Last year’s arrival of Tree House Brewing Co., located a half-mile north on Route 5 from Yankee Candle Village, has contributed to the amount of traffic in Deerfield, which benefits all local destinations.

“We have a great relationship with Treehouse Brewery, and we’re excited to have them as another strong and prosperous business in our community,” Bassett said, pointing out that guests can visit Powder Hollow Brewery at Yankee Candle Village, then head up Route 5 to Tree House Brewery, and from there it’s a short trip to Berkshire Brewing Co. located close by in the center of Deerfield. “It’s essentially a mini-beer tour right here in our own backyard.”

Deerfield Town Administrator Kacey Warren, who credits Yankee Candle Village for being a strong tourism draw that benefits Deerfield and Western Mass., made a similar observation on the potential mini-beer tour.

“We now have three fun brewing spaces in town that we hope people will visit to make them all successful,” she told BusinessWest.

 

The Nose Knows

Guests to the flagship store in Deerfield will also find more than 150 fragrant candles on hand. Bassett said many visitors enjoy the treasure hunt of discovering new seasonal candle fragrances such as Sakura Blossom Festival as well as traditional favorites like Clean Cotton, Pink Sands, and McIntosh, a personal favorite of Bassett’s.

The new Well Living Collection are candles designed to transform the mood in the room, he added. “It’s a collection we created to help find balance at a time when wellness is more important than ever.”

Over the last two years, as people were spending more time at home, the Yankee Candle manufacturing facility in Whately stayed busy. Demand for fragrant candles increased during that time, and Yankee Candle products saw plenty of movement off retail shelves. As more people transitioned into working from home, Bassett explained, they were looking to create a space of relaxation and comfort.

“Through fragrance, we are able to help our customers transform their homes into a space that’s happier, fresher, and more inviting,” he said. “Our passion for fragrance helps make your house feel more like a home.”

“Our programs are all about celebrating traditions with families. We are looking at more events that will appeal to all the families who visit us.”

While Yankee is obviously in the candle business, it is also clearly in the home fragrance business. That leads to developing products that may not be candles but help reinforce the Yankee Candle brand in new and different ways, such as the ScentPlug Fan.

“The ScentPlug Fan circulates fragrance throughout every corner of the room and has a built-in light sensor that provides a soft glow when the lights are low,” Bassett explained. Depending on the season or mood, a variety of scents can be easily swapped out of the fan unit.

The new Signature Candle line

The new Signature Candle line features new scents in redesigned vessels.

As April approaches, Bassett discussed several events planned for Yankee Candle Village, beginning with the arrival of the Easter Bunny on April 2, as well as Easter Bunny greetings every weekend leading up to Easter Sunday. There are also events planned for April school vacation week.

“Our programs are all about celebrating traditions with families,” Bassett said. “We are looking at more events that will appeal to all the families who visit us.”

This year, the Franklin County Chamber moved its office and visitor center to Historic Deerfield, a move designed to bring more tourism activity to Deerfield and surrounding towns. Before the pandemic, Historic Deerfield would attract nearly 20,000 visitors every year. Diana Szynal, executive director of the chamber, said the new visitor center is an opportunity to encourage people to explore the area further and stay longer in the county.

“Part of our mission as a regional tourism council is to encourage people to extend their stay,” she said. “Yankee Candle, Historic Deerfield, and other great attractions give people a reason to spend that extra time in our area.”

 

Making Scents of It All

While visitors come to Yankee Candle Village all year, fall and the holiday season are still the busiest times for guests.

“When you grow up in New England, there’s the smell of fall, the feel of Christmas, and the traditions that come with it,” Bassett said. “It’s like no other time of the year.”

A highlight every year at Yankee Candle Village is the arrival of Santa Claus, who makes his way there by either helicopter or fire truck. Bassett said he enjoys talking with the families who attend this event every year.

“In some cases, the kids who came here years ago are now parents, and they are bringing their own children,” he noted. “It’s become a generational event for lots of families.”

The holidays are just one time when the loyal fanbase of Yankee Candle shoppers will visit the flagship store. But it’s not unusual for people to go there several times a year. “Fragrance evokes memories which are extremely powerful for our guests,” Bassett said.

Now a 30-year employee, he expressed gratitude to be working with “such an amazing company.” And he’s looking forward to spring and the opportunity to talk about another new Yankee Candle product line, the Signature Candle.

“It’s a line featuring new scents in redesigned vessels,” Bassett said. “My personal favorite is Iced Berry Lemonade, a mix of strawberry, lemon, and grapefruit aromas that will be my go-to fragrance for spring.”

As soon as the snow melts in the hilltowns, Bassett plans to make sure an Iced Berry Lemonade candle will have a prominent place on his backyard patio — a reminder that Yankee Candle, both its products and its famous Village, remain a year-round draw for people in Western Mass. and well beyond.

Opinion

 

 

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by this state’s mind-numbing hesitancy when it comes to sports gambling.

After all, legislators waited years after other states moved ahead with casino gambling to finally put a measure in place for Massachusetts. Time and again, casino gambling was brought up for votes and brushed aside for … another day. Finally, casino gambling was approved roughly a decade ago, but the hesitation cost the state dearly. Indeed, by the time the three casino operations in the state, including MGM Springfield, were up and running, the competition in surrounding states had increased exponentially, essentially changing the landscape and making it far more difficult for those casinos to gain the revenues that were projected when the casino bill was finally passed.

One might have thought the state would have learned from this expensive lesson, but here we are in late March, the middle of this year’s college basketball championships, the biggest betting event on the planet, and the state appears nowhere close to passing a sports-gambling bill.

It’s perplexing, but it’s also quite frustrating. The casinos sorely need this huge revenue stream, and the lack of sports betting is putting them at a competitive disadvantage, not only during March Madness, but the other 11 months of the year as well. The casinos have all built facilities in anticipation of a sports-gambling measure — MGM has created two areas for watching and wagering on sports (see story on page 33) — but they currently sit unused or have been put to other uses.

Theories abound about why there is such hesitation on sports gambling, including the one concerning it becoming competition for the state’s highly lucrative lottery. We understand the premise, but people were saying the same thing about the state’s three casinos. Almost four years after they’ve opened, the lottery is still thriving.

Another theory is that legislators are wary that sports gambling — on top of the casinos and the aforementioned lottery — would be too much gambling and perhaps put more people at risk of developing addictions.

We understand this theory as well, but if people want to bet on sports — and a large number of people do (Americans spent $9.7 billion on sports bets this past January alone) — they will find a way to do it. And with New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and other nearby states already allowing such gambling, they don’t have to travel far to do it.

Overall, 15 states introduced sports-betting legislation in 2021, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the big question is why Massachusetts didn’t make it 16.

Bills have been introduced — several of them, in fact — but they haven’t received the requisite attention to gain any traction.

Overall, sports gambling is just not a priority in this state. Should it be? There are plenty of other priorities, certainly, including housing, education, mental health, and childcare. But while tackling them, it seems the state Legislature could find the time and inclination to pass a sports-gambling measure.

The ongoing hesitancy simply doesn’t make sense. And it should not continue.

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Holyoke Looks to Build on the Momentum from Cannabis, Entrepreneurship

 

Aaron Vega

Aaron Vega says there are many cannabis-related businesses now operating in Holyoke, and many more in the pipeline.

Joshua Garcia, Holyoke’s first Puerto Rican mayor and a lifelong resident of this historic community, says that, in many respects, history is repeating itself in the city.

Elaborating, he said that for the better part of a century, the paper and textile mills on the canals were a symbol of strength, a source of jobs, and, in many ways, the city’s identity (see Sidebar here)

It wasn’t that way through the latter half of the 20th century as most of the mills went south, and into the 21st century, he went on, but it’s becoming that way again, largely because of the booming cannabis industry that is breathing new life into those long-vacant mills.

“Those mills were the economic anchor,” he said. “And it’s interesting to see history repeat itself; but instead of the Paper City, there’s now this ‘Rolling Paper City’ interest. Although it’s a different industry … the impact is the same.”

Indeed, cannabis is changing the landscape in Holyoke, figuratively if not literally, although that, too. Aaron Vega, director of Planning & Economic Development in Holyoke and a former state representative, said there are now eight cannabis operations doing business in Holyoke, and several dozen more in various stages of development.

Just as important as the number of ventures is the broad diversity on display, he said, noting that the city boasts several cultivating operations, dispensaries, a testing lab, and more.

“We continue to see cannabis interest and cannabis companies opening,” said Vega. “There’s a lot in the pipeline.”

But while the emergence of a cannabis cluster in Holyoke — similar to what is happening with biotech in Worcester in many respects — has been impressive, there is much more to what most would call a resurgence in this city than one industry. There has been a surge in entrepreneurship that has brought many new businesses to High Street and other streets. There have been several new restaurants, for example, despite the toll the pandemic has taken on that sector, but many other kinds of ventures as well, said Jordan Hart, executive director of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce.

“Over the past year, we’ve had more than a dozen ribbon cuttings, most of them restaurants and all of them small businesses.”

“Over the past year, we’ve had more than a dozen ribbon cuttings, most of them restaurants and all of them small businesses,” she said, noting that her ceremonial scissors have been given a workout. She credits the pandemic and the manner in which it has prompted introspection and, for many, a desire for something different and hopefully more fulfilling than their 9-5 job, as being a catalyst for some of this activity.

Tessa Murphy Romboletti, director of EforAll Holyoke and now also at-large City Councilor — she was elected last November — agreed.

She said the pandemic has helped fuel interest in entrepreneurship across the board, meaning people of all ages and demographic groups. EforAll has been expanding and evolving in ongoing efforts to meet the needs of such individuals, she said, adding that it is now staging its 12th and 13th cohorts of aspiring entrepreneurs, one for English-speaking candidates, and one for Spanish. It is also adding a new program, called E-Forever, a resource for those who are already in business rather than trying to get off the ground.

But beyond COVID, this surge in entrepreneurship is also being fueled by Holyoke’s emergence as a landing spot for those looking for affordability, diversity, a growing cultural economy, and a chance to do something they may not be able to do in a larger, far more expensive municipality.

People like Jay Candelario, who grew up in the city, moved to New York, but eventually returned. Battling heavy doubts and some long odds, he took an historic home on Dwight Street that had been damaged in a lightning strike, and converted it into Jay’s Bed & Breakfast.

Opened in 2016, the facility has certainly been challenged by the pandemic, but it has hung on, through diversification into catering and events, and Candelario’s persistence and belief in not only himself and his concept, but Holyoke itself (more on that, later).

Jay Candelario

Jay Candelario, seen here at the grand staircase at his B&B on Dwight Street, says Holyoke is staging a resurgence and attracting many new residents and businesses.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Holyoke and the many forces that are shaping progress in the city and, as the mayor noted, enabling history to repeat itself.

 

On a Roll

While there are many developments in Holyoke from a business perspective, cannabis continues to be the story.

And as Vega said, it’s one that involves a large number of businesses, diversity of ventures, and large supply of potential new initiatives in the pipeline.

Providing a quick snapshot of the cannabis cluster in Holyoke, which has a popular destination because of its cheap electricity, location near major interstates, and large supply of old mill buildings, Vega said there are now more than 500 people working within the industry in Holyoke, many of whom have graduated from cannabis programs at area colleges (see related story, page 35), and many different kinds of facilities, from cultivation and manufacturing operations., to dispensaries, to a testing facility, Analytics Labs, which opened last year, on Appleton Street. It’s the first operation of its kind in Western Mass., and provides a vital service to businesses that are required to submit the cannabis to independent labs that run a number of tests, for potency, solvents, pesticides, pathogenic microbes, and more.

“We have several businesses already operating, and another dozen growth and manufacturing facilities that could be up and running by the end of the year,” said Vega.

But there are still many challenges facing those looking to enter this industry, especially the smaller ventures, he went on.

“I think there’s still a lot of challenges for these companies to get their financing,” said Vega. “The MSOs — the multi-state operators — are able to set up shop more easily than the locally owned companies, but they are starting to come to fruition.”

Tessa Murphy-Romboletti

Tessa Murphy-Romboletti, director of EforAll Holyoke, took her involvement in the city to a higher plane with election to the City Council last fall.

One development that may help some of these businesses get over the hump — and help Holyoke as well — is the creation of what Vega called an “incubator” for cannabis businesses in the old National Blank Book property on Cabot Street. There, many smaller businesses are getting support to break into the business and overcome the many hurdles — from financing to licensing to building a workforce — to opening the doors to a new cannabis business.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Vega, adding that there are a number of smaller enterprises occupying spaces in the facility and trying to move ventures forward.

Looking ahead, both Vega and Garcia said that one challenge — and opportunity — for the city is to promote the development of support businesses for the cannabis sector.

Elaborating, Vega said that these businesses must now order lighting, raw materials, and other products from companies on the other side of the country, and would certainly prefer to be able to source them locally.

“They all agree; there could be substantial savings if they didn’t have to order their products from Texas and Florida,” he told BusinessWest. “And we also like to think about the bigger picture — if we get those kinds of companies to land here in Western Mass., not just Holyoke, but Western Mass., there could be tremendous opportunities for the region.”

Elaborating, he said several neighboring states have either already legalized marijuana or are in the process of doing so, and having support businesses that can provide lighting and products in Massachusetts, as opposed to Texas, could facilitate efforts to make this area a hub, not just for Massachusetts, but for all of New England.

 

Getting Down to Business

Murphy-Romboletti said she first started thinking about running for City Council two years ago. A former city employee — she worked in the mayor’s office and, later, the Office of Planning & Economic Development — she said she has always wanted to be involved with the community and knew that the Council was where one could make an impact — on the city, but also its business community.

After consulting with her bosses with EforAll, a national organization with several locations in the Bay State, including two in Western Mass., and getting their blessing, she threw her hat into the ring. She’s only been on the job a few months now, and has spent most of that time reaching out to department heads and talking with them about what they need for their offices to run better and more effectively.

From an economic development perspective, she said she has long understood the Council’s impact on business. “It has the ability to slow down process or speed up process on things,” she said. “And I think permitting, in and of itself, within our local government, is confusing and not always as necessary as it needs to be, and that’s one of the reasons why I ran.”

Elaborating, and without actually using the phrase, she said one of her goals is to help make the city more business-friendly, and especially at a time when there is so much interest in entrepreneurship — both within the cannabis sector but also well beyond it.

Which … brings her back to her day job. EforAll is seeing growing numbers of applications for its cohorts, she said, adding there are 22 participants in the current sessions. The pandemic has brought a regrettable halt to most in-person learning opportunities (although she’s hoping that might change soon), but the agency is carrying on through Zoom.

A number of graduates have gone on to open businesses, many in the downtown area, she said, adding that the ongoing needs of these ventures prompted the creation of E-Forever.

Undertaken in conjunction with Entrepreneurs Forever, the new group is a “resource for those who have gone through the program and are currently in business, rather than those who are just getting started,” she explained.

“These businesses are generating revenue, and they have unique challenges,” she went on, adding that this group of perhaps 8-10 entrepreneurs will meet once a month, share information, and troubleshoot. “The entrepreneurs pick what they want to work on; it’s like having an accountability group that meets each month to support whatever challenges you’re having as an existing business owner.”

The broad goal, she said, is to enable more businesses to weather the many storms they will face as they mature and grow and stay in business, preferably in Holyoke.

A good deal of resilience has already been on display, said Jordan, adding that she couldn’t think of a single business in the city that closed during the pandemic, and, meanwhile, as she noted, many new ones have been opening.

Jordan Hart, executive director of the Greater Holyoke Chamber

Jordan Hart, executive director of the Greater Holyoke Chamber, says the pandemic has helped create a surge of entrepreneurship in the city and a number of new businesses.

“It’s been remarkable to see the perseverance the community has to see Holyoke thrive,” she said, adding that while existing businesses, often with help in the form of local, state, and federal grants, have found what it takes to survive the pandemic, COVID has inspired many others to join their ranks in the business community.

“People began to prioritize not only their personal life and their personal interests, but also their mental health and well-being,” she explained. “And many found that what they wanted was more work-life balance and flexible schedules. And that’s where entrepreneurship came into play … with people finding their true selves, what their purpose is, and what they want their purpose to be; the pandemic really shook things up in that sense.”

She said the roster of new businesses includes restaurants, like Crave, El Paradiso Colombiano, and the Avalon Café, and several cannabis-related businesses, but also a few boutiques. And, as noted, most are in the heart of downtown, bringing many formerly dormant spaces to life.

 

Rooms with a View

That historic home on Dwight Street that Jay Candelario found was more than dormant.

It needed considerable work inside and out, he told BusinessWest, adding that while most were more than willing to consider the property known to most as the Moriarty mansion and ultimately pass, he decided to take a chance.

“I’m a risk taker,” said Candelario, who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in Holyoke and then Amherst, and moved to New York City as an adult. “And you would have to be a risk taker to take this on.”

Those sentiments reflected more than the condition of the Queen Anne Victorian; they also referenced the time of this acquisition (2009, the height of the Great Recession) and the seemingly long odds against creating a successful B&B in downtown Holyoke.

But Candelario was able to look past the challenges and the doubters and see opportunity. It’s taken a while for the vision to become reality, and the pandemic has certainly put more hurdles in front of him — he admits to coming close to packing it in and moving on to something else — but Candelario, like many business owners in Holyoke, has persevered.

“We have several businesses already operating, and another dozen growth and manufacturing facilities that could be up and running by the end of the year.”

As he gave BusinessWest a tour and pointed out rooms bearing the names of places he’s visited in and lived in — ‘Brazil,’ ‘New York,’ ‘Puerto Rico,’ and ‘Holyoke,’ among others — Candelario said business has been steady if unspectacular, with guests ranging from traveling nurses, to executives for Coca Cola, to “emergencies” in the form of needed beds for those being helped by the nonprofits Roca Holyoke and Women’s Shelter Companeras, now Alianza. Over the years, though, he’s been able to draw guests visiting area colleges, individuals in town on business, and those attending the St. Patrick’s Day parade and road race. His audience is those who want something different than the run-of-the-mill hotel room.

Shut down for the better part of a year by the pandemic starting in March, 2020, he said he’s been able to keep his dream alive by diversifying and expanding his operation into catering and the hosting of events ranging from baby showers to family reunions to nonprofit retreats.

While reflecting on his business and where he can take it, Candelario also ruminated on Holyoke, its present and its future. And he drew many comparisons to the Bronx, another diverse community he believes is also misunderstood and underappreciated. He lived there for some time, and was originally planning to open a B&B near Yankee Stadium until the economic downturn in 2008 scuttled those plans.

“The Bronx and Holyoke have a lot in common,” he said. “It’s the inner city, working class, different cultures; they’re melting pots that many people just don’t appreciate for all that they are.”

Beyond these qualities, the city boasts location and affordability, two important factors in these changing times.

“Holyoke is very affordable for those people who are starting off,” he explained. “They can get better housing for the buck. And if you want to work in Northampton, it’s 10 to 15 minutes away; Springfield is 10 to 15 minutes away; Agawam is 10-15 minutes away.

“I see Holyoke as a very progressive, very upwardly mobile city,” he went on. “You have people from many different areas coming here, not just locally, but from around the country. I run into people from Chicago who moved here, and Florida, California, New York City, and Boston. They come here because they see opportunities. People see the same thing that I see.”

 

View to the Future

Candelario said he assigned the name ‘Holyoke’ to one particular room at his B&B because, if one looks closely, he or she can see City Hall from one of the windows.

As he surveys the scene, though, he sees more than that iconic structure. Much more.

He sees a city that is putting its recent, not so glorious, past, behind it, and becoming something else: a destination of sorts, for travelers, but especially residents seeking affordability and quality of life, and businesses looking for a solid spot to land.

This is what Mayor Garcia had in mind when he said that history is repeating itself in Holyoke, and not just when it comes to the mills as a symbol of jobs and economic might.

Indeed, Holyoke’s past, as an ethnically diverse center of business and culture, is also its future.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

 

 

Western Mass. businessman Cesar Ruiz, one of the state’s first-ever elected Latinos and the president and CEO of Golden Years Home Care, is urging Massachusetts to adopt electronic signatures as a means for candidates to access the ballot statewide in constitutional offices.

As a result of the pandemic, the Massachusetts Supreme Court in a ruling in 2020 allowed the gathering of electronic signatures needed by candidates to see their name on the ballot for election. The ruling was temporary, and Ruiz is advocating for this to be made permanent. Ruiz announced the formation of a group, Citizens for Transparency, to lead the effort to bring about this change and to support other initiatives that encourage enfranchisement of voters and those attempting to gain ballot access.

 

Ruiz and his business are based in Western Massachusetts, and he will be calling on the Western Massachusetts delegation to file legislation immediately to make the 2020 ruling on electronic signatures permanent.

 

“We hear so much in the political discourse today about inclusion and enfranchising all in the electoral process,” he said. “The sad truth is, as we see around the nation with voter suppression legislation being enacted and the failure of Washington to pass a voting rights bill, that there is still a very long way to go. The Commonwealth should immediately adopt the use of electronic signatures to provide more access to the ballot for those seeking office.

 

“How in good conscience can any reasonable elected official oppose a ruling that was implemented during the height of the COVID pandemic to leverage technology to help candidates access the ballot?” he went on. “Our elected officials often preach inclusion in our electoral system and this is an opportunity to put those words into action. Citizen and candidate participation are the cornerstones of a healthy democracy, and I look forward to working with the Western Massachusetts legislative delegation and other sponsors to file and pass this legislation this year.”

Ruiz, who was recognized by the Massachusetts State Senate for being the first Latino ever elected at large in Massachusetts history, said another avenue would be for Secretary William Galvin to permanently adopt the 2020 ruling. 

Ruiz was elected at age 25 as the first Hispanic in Springfield on the School Committee, and served until 1986. 

Golden Years Home Care was named Entrepreneur of the Year for 2020 by BusinessWest magazine. Ruiz was also featured by Hispanic Executive, a publication spotlighting business’s most influential Latinos.

Banking and Financial Services

The $1 Million Exemption Level Is Among the Lowest in the Country

By Barbara Trombley

Did you ever wonder why all of your Massachusetts neighbors move to Florida when they retire? And they make sure they spend six months and a day at their southern address?

Of course, the warm winter weather in sunny Florida is a draw. But another reason many people in Massachusetts change their state residence is to avoid the Massachusetts estate tax, which is levied on estates valued over $1 million. Given the value of real estate and 401(k) plans in Massachusetts, it is not that hard to pass this threshold for many middle-class people.

Surprisingly, the federal estate tax is $12.06 million per person in 2022. Also, it is portable between spouses. With the correct steps, a married couple can protect $24.12 million after the death of both spouses in 2022. Our state estate tax is shockingly different. Of the 18 states with an estate or inheritance tax, Massachusetts and Oregon have the lowest exemption level of $1 million.

Also, the Massachusetts estate tax has a regressive feature where, if you die with an estate valued at $1,000,001 or more, your heirs will pay a graduated tax starting at the first dollar over $40,000 (which is a small exclusion). The bill on a $1 million estate is about $40,000. The tax rate is a graduated one and rises from 0.8% to 16% depending on the size of the estate. The heirs of an estate worth $3 million could find themselves with a tax bill approaching $200,000.

Massachusetts is shockingly out of step with the nation and with the rest of New England. Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont all have exclusions of more than $5 million, and New Hampshire does not have an inheritance tax at all. Until our legislators raise the exemption to keep up with inflation and make the exemption a true one, residents will continue to flee the state or jump through hoops to help their heirs avoid the tax.

Barbara Trombley

Barbara Trombley

“The tax rate is a graduated one and rises from 0.8% to 16% depending on the size of the estate. The heirs of an estate worth $3 million could find themselves with a tax bill approaching $200,000.”

What is included in your estate? Bank accounts, real estate, retirement accounts, life-insurance proceeds, vehicles, etc. Upon the death of the first spouse, no tax is owed. It is upon the death of the last remaining spouse that the dollar amount of assets is counted and an estate tax will need to be filed if the total value exceeds $1 million. The return must be filed, and any tax must be paid nine months after the death. The state may grant an extension of time, but interest will accrue on any unpaid amounts past the due date.

What can be done to mitigate the tax if the laws don’t change? Perhaps you retitle the ownership of your house to a trust or to an adult child to remove it from your estate. Each spouse can also set up a trust to shelter $1 million upon their death. This keeps the funds out of their estate but available to the surviving spouse to use if set up correctly.

Cash and other assets can be gifted to reduce an estate, but be careful about capital gains or tax owed on retirement funds. Charitable contributions can also be made to reduce the size of the estate. Many retirees move to a tax-friendly state, like Florida, and become residents. Working with a qualified financial planner and an estate attorney is imperative to mitigate the estate tax.

 

Barbara Trombley is a financial advisor and CPA with Wilbraham-based Trombley, CPA; (413) 596-6992. Securities offered through LPL Financial. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Trombley Associates, a registered investment advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial.

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Chris Brittain

Chris Brittain says several projects in Lee, both town-funded and using ARPA aid, are moving forward.

As the pandemic enters its third year of disrupting life as we knew it, the business community in Lee continues to manage the disruptions of COVID-19 and its variants with a good degree of success. Colleen Henry attributes that to one reason.

“The local people here in Lee are strong supporters of our businesses,” said Henry, executive director of the Lee Chamber of Commerce.

Along with Lenox and Stockbridge, Lee is part of the Tri Town Health Department, which has maintained a mask mandate for all indoor spaces. One upside of the mask requirement is that it enables businesses, as well as town offices, to remain open without interruption.

That’s important, said interim Town Administrator Christopher Brittain, who has been on the job for only four months, yet has a full list of projects in the queue for this year and beyond.

Lee received an allocation of $1.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, which will be spread out among several projects in town. Among them are replacing water lines in a couple of areas and upgrading the municipal website to make it easier for people to conduct town business online.

“When someone sells their home at $20,000 to $30,000 dollars over asking price, every house in that neighborhood increases in value. We can’t control the market, but we were able to lower the tax rate.”

All three towns in the Tri Town Health Department will contribute some of their ARPA money to fund the creation of a new food-inspector position in the department, a position certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as part of a national standards program.

“Obviously, we have inspectors now,” Brittain said. “The new position gives us someone to provide guidance with federal programs and reduce issues with food service and retail food vendors.”

Outside of ARPA funds, Brittain discussed several projects in the works, including paving on Main Street, with $1 million in funding approved at the last town meeting to continue that project into the summer.

Lee at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1777
Population: 5,788
Area: 27 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $13.65
Commercial Tax Rate: $13.65
Median Household Income: $41,566
Median Family Income: $49,630
Type of Government: Representative Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Lee Premium Outlets; Onyx Specialty Papers; the Landing at Laurel Lake; Oak n’ Spruce Resort; Big Y
* Latest information available

One significant project Brittain hopes to see make progress this year involves the former Eagle Mill paper company. Plans to redevelop the site feature 80 units of affordable and market-rate housing, as well as several restaurant and retail stores. The $55 million project has been in the works for several years, though the official groundbreaking was held only three months ago.

“Because of COVID, the Eagle Mill project is moving slower than everyone wants it to,” Brittain said, noting that a significant next step involves six dilapidated houses near the site, which were recently purchased to be torn down. Construction on the mill complex is scheduled to roll out in two phases. “This is a big project that will take up the entire north end of Main Street.”

Additional housing in Lee would certainly be welcome, said Henry, who noted the current supply of available houses is low because sales have been so brisk. “As a result, we have a lot of new residents, and that’s kind of exciting.”

In terms of real-estate taxes, the past year brought both good news and bad news, as the town lowered the tax rate, but selling prices for homes kept boosting valuations, resulting in higher taxes anyway.

“Whether we replace or renovate, we have to do something because the police are running out of space, and the ambulance building needs work.”

“When someone sells their home at $20,000 to $30,000 dollars over asking price, every house in that neighborhood increases in value,” Brittain said. “We can’t control the market, but we were able to lower the tax rate.”

For this year, the tax rate is $13.65 per thousand, down from $14.68 the year before. Because of higher valuations, he explained, the average tax increased by $193.

 

High Times Ahead

One industry relatively new to the tax rolls in Lee is cannabis. Right now, Canna Provisions is the only cannabis facility that’s up and running, but Brittain said the town has 14 permits for various cannabis facilities, with interested parties claiming 13 of them. Activity for future cannabis businesses includes a facility for growing on Route 102 under construction and a dispensary proposed for the former Cork and Hearth restaurant on the Lee/Lenox line.

The revenue from Canna Provisions has begun making a difference for the town. Brittain said the impact on tax revenue has made it possible for the town to consider hiring a full-time school resource officer, add streetlights in town, and begin a study on public-safety facilities.

Right now, Lee’s public-safety departments are in several buildings. The police operate out of two floors in Town Hall, the Fire Department is in an historic firehouse, and the town ambulance is located in a separate building.

“We are doing a study to see if we can consolidate public safety in one new building,” Brittain said. “Whether we replace or renovate, we have to do something because the police are running out of space, and the ambulance building needs work.”

An artist’s rendering of the Eagle Mill redevelopment project in Lee.

An artist’s rendering of the Eagle Mill redevelopment project in Lee.

While the study won’t happen for a while, he noted, thanks to the cannabis revenue, the town can explore its options for whether to invest in what it has or move forward with a new facility.

Before the Omicron variant of COVID hit, businesses in Lee were having a strong fall season. Henry said business was brisk. “We had lots of people come to Lee who were eating in our restaurants, staying in our hotels, and shopping in our stores, so we were pretty happy about the fall.”

Despite new variants of COVID and other disruptions to business, Henry noted that, because restaurants have developed strong takeout systems, they can quickly adapt and keep serving their customers.

“I’ve heard from people in Lee how grateful they were to still be able to get good food and how the restaurants worked to accommodate everyone,” she said, adding that the quick adaptation to takeout kept people employed “even though everyone still needs more workers.”

Looking ahead to other projects in town, plans are moving forward for a bike path that would run along the Housatonic River. The mile-long path would extend approximately from Big Y to Lee Bank. Brittain said it’s not certain if construction will begin this year, but the town is working with MassDOT to keep the project moving.

“We had lots of people come to Lee who were eating in our restaurants, staying in our hotels, and shopping in our stores, so we were pretty happy about the fall.”

Lee has also applied to become an Appalachian Trail Community. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website, when a town along the trail receives designated community status, it is considered a support asset for all who use the trail, and the conservancy encourages people to explore these communities. If accepted, Lee looks to join Western Mass. communities of Cheshire, Dalton, Great Barrington, and North Adams with the designation.

“We’ve been working with the Appalachian Trail folks, and we’re hoping Lee receives its designation by the end of the year,” Brittain said.

 

 

Seeking a Return to Normalcy

For the past two years, Lee had to cancel its annual Founders Weekend celebration — which recognizes the founding of the town back in 1777 — due to COVID concerns. Henry said people in town treat it as a fun birthday celebration, and in 2022, the town will be 245 years old.

Held on the third weekend in September, the community-wide event takes place on Main Street, which is closed to traffic to allow restaurants and other vendors to set up in the middle of the street.

“Founders Weekend always draws a huge crowd, and that’s why we were not able to hold it the last two years. It was too difficult to keep such a large gathering safe,” Henry said.

While there is no guarantee Founders Weekend will happen this year, she has it listed in her event calendar, and both she and Brittain are hopeful the event will take place in September.

“I think people are ready for a fun blowout weekend,” Henry said. “We’re all looking forward to it.”

Commercial Real Estate

COVID and Property Value

By Laura Bellotti Cardillo

 

Laura Bellotti Cardillo

Laura Bellotti Cardillo

When property-tax assessments in Massachusetts came out at the end of 2020, many business owners were surprised to find their values had stayed the same or increased. Those assessments were premised on income and expense data from calendar year 2019, and therefore did not factor in the beginnings of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Now that property-tax assessments for fiscal year 2022 are being determined, commercial property owners whose real-estate assets were negatively impacted by the pandemic should take another look. Assessors must rely on calendar year 2020 income and expense data to determine current values and assessments, and after almost two years of living with COVID-19, the question remains whether the pandemic is a temporary anomaly or the economic impact will be of longer duration.

If your commercial real estate has been hit hard by the pandemic, here are some best practices that could help you achieve a reduction in your property assessment and lower your real-estate taxes.

 

Provide Extra Data and Projections

If the pandemic has continued to hamper your property’s performance through 2021, provide data through the third quarter of this year. While the assessment is based on numbers through year-end 2020, proof that things have not improved undercuts the argument that the pandemic is merely a blip.

Projections for 2022, 2023, and 2024 can be helpful in this regard as well. Many industries anticipate that a full recovery will take years. Demonstrating that you are not anticipating a swift bounce-back can support your argument that a reduction now is warranted.

“If the pandemic has continued to hamper your property’s performance through 2021, provide data through the third quarter of this year. While the assessment is based on numbers through year-end 2020, proof that things have not improved undercuts the argument that the pandemic is merely a blip.”

 

Document Use of PPP and Other Relief Funds

In some cases, assessors have asked if businesses received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or other relief initiatives. It is highly unlikely that these funds would have been used in a way that would increase the value of your real estate, so they should not factor into the fiscal year 2022 assessment.

Because PPP was designed specifically to cover payroll, utilities, and operating expenses, demonstrating in detail how these funds were spent (using materials you likely already have from your loan-forgiveness application) should help assessors put the receipt of these funds in proper context.

 

Values and Assessments Can Change Annually

Municipalities in Massachusetts have the ability to adjust assessments annually. Because values can be recalibrated year to year, now is the time for assessors to lower the values for the commercial property types hit hard by the pandemic.

Assuming certain commercial real-estate markets have begun to tick back up already or will begin to do so in 2022, assessors can make the necessary adjustments if and when the various sectors of the commercial property market roar back to life.

 

Laura Bellotti Cardillo is vice chair of the property-tax and valuation practice at Pullman & Comley. She heads the law firm’s Springfield office.

Real Estate

The following real estate transactions (latest available) were compiled by Banker & Tradesman and are published as they were received. Only transactions exceeding $115,000 are listed. Buyer and seller fields contain only the first name listed on the deed.

FRANKLIN COUNTY

BERNARDSTON

525 Bald Mountain Road
Bernardston, MA 01337
Amount: $1,100,000
Buyer: Michael P. Cohrs
Seller: Scott M. Digeorge
Date: 12/20/21

19 South St.
Bernardston, MA 01337
Amount: $350,000
Buyer: Alexander F. Fiorey
Seller: Paul C. Skiathitis
Date: 12/22/21

BUCKLAND

25 Birch Road
Buckland, MA 01370
Amount: $375,000
Buyer: Joseph Moynihan
Seller: Raymond E. Scott
Date: 11/29/21

30 Franklin St.
Buckland, MA 01338
Amount: $271,600
Buyer: Melissa Plesnar
Seller: William Leitner
Date: 12/03/21

8 Goodnow Road
Buckland, MA 01370
Amount: $115,000
Buyer: Honor Mosher
Seller: Mosher, Constance Z. B., (Estate)
Date: 12/20/21

COLRAIN

121 Call Road
Colrain, MA 01340
Amount: $140,000
Buyer: Sarah Davenport
Seller: Brothers, Sr. Duane E., (Estate)
Date: 12/20/21

205 Greenfield Road
Colrain, MA 01340
Amount: $440,000
Buyer: Richard R. Hebert
Seller: C. Leigh Morrell
Date: 11/30/21

16 High St.
Colrain, MA 01340
Amount: $138,000
Buyer: Yolanda Romero
Seller: Preecha Srisupa
Date: 12/22/21

2701 Shelburne Falls Road
Conway, MA 01341
Amount: $240,000
Buyer: John Berard
Seller: Bear River Investments LLC
Date: 11/30/21

3 York Road
Colrain, MA 01340
Amount: $215,000
Buyer: Cory M. Dale
Seller: Lori Regienus
Date: 12/03/21

DEERFIELD

Conway Road
Deerfield, MA 01342
Amount: $636,500
Buyer: Matthew Ramon
Seller: Joann M. Denehy
Date: 11/30/21

19 Graves St.
Deerfield, MA 01373
Amount: $310,000
Buyer: Michael C. Pascoe
Seller: John W. Kinchla
Date: 11/30/21

Greenfield Road
Deerfield, MA 01342
Amount: $636,500
Buyer: Matthew Ramon
Seller: Joann M. Denehy
Date: 11/30/21

250 Greenfield Road
Deerfield, MA 01373
Amount: $350,000
Buyer: Dale & Jay Whitney LLC
Seller: Doris A. Bilodeau TR
Date: 12/21/21

252 Lower Road
Deerfield, MA 01342
Amount: $400,000
Buyer: Sara A. Simmons
Seller: Jocelin Cesar
Date: 12/17/21

Mill Village Road
Deerfield, MA 01342
Amount: $636,500
Buyer: Matthew Ramon
Seller: Joann M. Denehy
Date: 11/30/21

176 North Main St.
Deerfield, MA 01373
Amount: $636,500
Buyer: Matthew Ramon
Seller: Joann M. Denehy
Date: 11/30/21

123 River Road
Deerfield, MA 01373
Amount: $720,000
Buyer: Dawn Tenney
Seller: Lois S. Gates
Date: 12/01/21

Route 10
Deerfield, MA 01342
Amount: $350,000
Buyer: Dale & Jay Whitney LLC
Seller: Doris A. Bilodeau TR
Date: 12/21/21

Route 5
Deerfield, MA 01342
Amount: $350,000
Buyer: Dale & Jay Whitney LLC
Seller: Doris A. Bilodeau TR
Date: 12/21/21

19 West St.
Deerfield, MA 01373
Amount: $230,000
Buyer: Charles E. Stacy
Seller: David Prystasz
Date: 11/30/21

ERVING

3 Central St.
Erving, MA 01344
Amount: $282,900
Buyer: Alma J. Escott
Seller: Franklin Technical School
Date: 12/03/21

GILL

20 Walnut St.
Gill, MA 01354
Amount: $235,000
Buyer: Andrew Paige
Seller: Harris IRT
Date: 12/17/21

GREENFIELD

345 Chapman St.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $257,500
Buyer: Justin R. Ducharme
Seller: Brunette, Steven P., (Estate)
Date: 12/20/21

638 Colrain Road
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $580,000
Buyer: Old Gorge NT
Seller: Starkey, Richard E., (Estate)
Date: 12/17/21

309 Conway St.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $290,000
Buyer: Chankroeusna Kry
Seller: Peter Lapa
Date: 12/22/21

176 Federal St.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $300,000
Buyer: ZN Realty LLC
Seller: Alexander F. Fiorey
Date: 12/17/21

16 Oak Hill Road
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $360,000
Buyer: Louis Vinci
Seller: Arthur R. Sumner
Date: 12/03/21

39 Phillips St.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $207,000
Buyer: Jason R. Penfield
Seller: Robert G. Penfield
Date: 12/17/21

36 Sunset Square
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $495,000
Buyer: John P. Doleva
Seller: Matthew D. Parody
Date: 12/01/21

51 Vernon St.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $299,000
Buyer: Kelley Ives
Seller: Eagle Home Buyers LLC
Date: 12/20/21

53 Washburn Ave.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $350,000
Buyer: Gwen Gannon
Seller: Monkeith E. Arnold
Date: 12/21/21

33 Washington St.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $140,000
Buyer: Bonnie J. Tuthill
Seller: Grink TR
Date: 11/30/21

55 White Birch Ave.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Amount: $240,000
Buyer: Jessica A. Barnes
Seller: Darlene A. Holland
Date: 12/17/21

HAWLEY

10 Forge Hill Road
Hawley, MA 01339
Amount: $690,000
Buyer: Adam L. Littman
Seller: Craig Shrimpton
Date: 11/30/21

12 Forge Hill Road
Hawley, MA 01339
Amount: $690,000
Buyer: Adam L. Littman
Seller: Craig Shrimpton
Date: 11/30/21

HEATH

11 Bellor Road
Heath, MA 01346
Amount: $450,000
Buyer: 11 Bellor LLC
Seller: Gallup INT
Date: 12/20/21

8 West Main St.
Heath, MA 01346
Amount: $195,000
Buyer: Donald Lebreux
Seller: Lisa C. Burke
Date: 11/30/21

LEYDEN

240 Eden Trail
Leyden, MA 01337
Amount: $299,900
Buyer: Carol Michelfelder
Seller: Pedro J. Borgos
Date: 12/21/21

MONTAGUE

5 Bulkley St.
Montague, MA 01376
Amount: $255,000
Buyer: Sandi H. Graves
Seller: Mary K. Dillon RET
Date: 11/30/21

128 East Chestnut Hill Road
Montague, MA 01351
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Richard Drohen
Seller: Deborah A. Rose
Date: 12/21/21

18 Highland St.
Montague, MA 01349
Amount: $311,000
Buyer: Emily Tareila
Seller: Jonathan M. Kopera
Date: 12/17/21

46 Vladish Ave.
Montague, MA 01376
Amount: $200,000
Buyer: Jeffrey E. Burt
Seller: Burt Family Trust
Date: 12/23/21

NEW SALEM

185 Moosehorn Road
New Salem, MA 01355
Amount: $202,500
Buyer: Todd Blake
Seller: Anna J. Bergmann
Date: 12/01/21

182 Neilson Road
New Salem, MA 01355
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Nicholas J. Curry
Seller: Anderson, Pauline, (Estate)
Date: 11/29/21

30 New Main St.
New Salem, MA 01355
Amount: $222,000
Buyer: Kathleen J. Lawless
Seller: Susan G. Arnold
Date: 12/21/21

NORTHFIELD

52 Ashuelot Road
Northfield, MA 01360
Amount: $170,000
Buyer: Jared J. Erho
Seller: Susan H. Garland TR
Date: 12/22/21

753 Mount Hermon Station Road
Northfield, MA 01360
Amount: $425,000
Buyer: Jonathan M. Kopera
Seller: Ivan Doncev
Date: 12/20/21

23 Saint Marys St.
Northfield, MA 01360
Amount: $281,000
Buyer: Elaine Toomey
Seller: McCollester INT
Date: 12/03/21

ORANGE

4 Meadow Lane
Orange, MA 01364
Amount: $278,000
Buyer: Francisc Santiago-Rivera
Seller: Glenn A. Skorb
Date: 12/17/21

162 Memory Lane
Orange, MA 01364
Amount: $120,000
Buyer: Dana Soroka
Seller: Pamela J. Bellar
Date: 12/17/21

70 Prentiss St.
Orange, MA 01364
Amount: $200,000
Buyer: Prentiss Street Real Estate LLC
Seller: Brian R. Newton
Date: 12/03/21

91 West River St.
Orange, MA 01364
Amount: $210,000
Buyer: Patricia M. Lee
Seller: Katherine A. Stemm
Date: 12/22/21

SHELBURNE

208 Smead Hill Road
Shelburne, MA 01340
Amount: $310,000
Buyer: Jeremy L. Johnson
Seller: Robert C. Fish
Date: 12/22/21

SHUTESBURY

409 West Pelham Road
Shutesbury, MA 01072
Amount: $209,000
Buyer: Jeffrey C. Bird
Seller: Bradford Spry
Date: 12/17/21

SUNDERLAND

70 South Main St.
Sunderland, MA 01375
Amount: $535,000
Buyer: Gregory C. Pipczynski
Seller: Thomas F. Devine
Date: 11/30/21

WENDELL

493 New Salem Road
Wendell, MA 01379
Amount: $145,000
Buyer: Douglas Simon
Seller: Sullo, Sandra L., (Estate)
Date: 11/30/21

WHATELY

79 State Road
Whately, MA 01093
Amount: $340,000
Buyer: Glen Skorb
Seller: Andrew F. Gianino
Date: 12/20/21

HAMPDEN COUNTY

AGAWAM

85 Chestnut Lane
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $304,500
Buyer: Adam Gravel
Seller: Andrew S. Mayo
Date: 11/30/21

95 Corey St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $260,000
Buyer: Fisnik Halili
Seller: Hitas, Peter Andrew, (Estate)
Date: 12/22/21

102 Cricket Road
Agawam, MA 01030
Amount: $515,000
Buyer: Lee A. Papadimitriou
Seller: Gary Szczebak
Date: 12/03/21

64 Day St.
Agawam, MA 01030
Amount: $260,000
Buyer: Robert E. Wojcik
Seller: Jeremy D. Kislus
Date: 11/29/21

24 Deering St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $287,500
Buyer: Christine B. Turrini
Seller: David S. Gold
Date: 11/30/21

35-37 Hope Farms Dr.
Agawam, MA 01030
Amount: $300,000
Buyer: Carmino J. Mineo
Seller: Denis H. Surprenant
Date: 12/01/21

117 Maple St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $260,000
Buyer: Karla M. Dejesus
Seller: Joseph T. Martin
Date: 12/03/21

196 Meadow St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $288,000
Buyer: Uduak Enyiema
Seller: Carmino J. Mineo
Date: 11/30/21

1149-1151 North Westfield St.
Agawam, MA 01030
Amount: $335,000
Buyer: Kevin D. Ghareeb
Seller: Dino R. Mercadante
Date: 11/30/21

204-206 North St.
Agawam, MA 01030
Amount: $190,000
Buyer: Vadim Plotnikov
Seller: Jessica Mongeau
Date: 11/29/21

61 Parker St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $267,500
Buyer: Benjamin E. Nuzzolilli
Seller: Andrew Lopez
Date: 12/23/21

80 Ridgeway Dr.
Agawam, MA 01030
Amount: $315,000
Buyer: Ihsan Salman
Seller: McIntyre, Florence A., (Estate)
Date: 11/30/21

375 River Road
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $218,500
Buyer: Donna M. Tauro
Seller: Felicia Germain
Date: 11/30/21

321 Rowley St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $275,000
Buyer: Janice A. Matias
Seller: Marco Scibelli
Date: 11/29/21

23 Samuel St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $535,000
Buyer: Kristina M. Healey
Seller: Charles A. Calabrese
Date: 12/03/21

450 Silver St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $335,000
Buyer: Scott Swenson
Seller: Carl A. Zingarelli
Date: 11/30/21

611 Suffield St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $280,000
Buyer: Thomas A. Montagna
Seller: Deborah Auld
Date: 12/20/21

616 Suffield St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $315,900
Buyer: Timothy A. Bates
Seller: Alyssa L. Febo
Date: 12/20/21

750 Suffield St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $270,000
Buyer: Josues DeLeon
Seller: Manchester Enterprises LLC
Date: 11/29/21

23 Walter Way
Agawam, MA 01001
Amount: $450,000
Buyer: Robert A. Oldberg
Seller: Ruslan Kuzmenko
Date: 12/17/21

BLANDFORD

76 Main St.
Blandford, MA 01008
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Kyle Bean
Seller: Leah A. Priest
Date: 12/02/21

1-R Old Chester Road
Blandford, MA 01008
Amount: $276,000
Buyer: Olamide Oladosu
Seller: Deborah A. Dion
Date: 12/03/21

BRIMFIELD

9 Crestwood Road
Brimfield, MA 01010
Amount: $140,000
Buyer: Paul Dibaro
Seller: Squires, Richard L. Jr., (Estate)
Date: 12/20/21

85 Dunhamtown Palmer Road
Brimfield, MA 01010
Amount: $420,000
Buyer: Judith H. Jaeger
Seller: Charles E. Hornbuckle
Date: 11/30/21

28 East Hill Road
Brimfield, MA 01010
Amount: $667,000
Buyer: Jennifer E. Mormile
Seller: Nicole Escolas
Date: 12/17/21

80 Lyman Barnes Road
Brimfield, MA 01010
Amount: $460,000
Buyer: Daniel McCabe
Seller: Mark E. Kifer
Date: 12/22/21

116 Paige Hill Road
Brimfield, MA 01010
Amount: $862,000
Buyer: Weisheng Xu
Seller: Howlett, Oliver L., (Estate)
Date: 12/20/21

146 Wales Road
Brimfield, MA 01010
Amount: $217,000
Buyer: Joshua A. Patraw
Seller: Everett C. Rubel
Date: 12/20/21

CHESTER

146 Bromley Road
Chester, MA 01050
Amount: $267,000
Buyer: Aaliyah DeJesus
Seller: Eugene L. Turner
Date: 12/23/21

CHICOPEE

89 9th Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $270,000
Buyer: Center For Human Development Inc.
Seller: Elaine A. Delisle
Date: 11/30/21

9th Ave. #654
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $270,000
Buyer: Center For Human Development Inc.
Seller: Elaine A. Delisle
Date: 11/30/21

17 Adams St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $900,000
Buyer: Esha Farm LLC
Seller: Deslauries, David, (Estate)
Date: 12/23/21

27 Adams St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $900,000
Buyer: Esha Farm LLC
Seller: Deslauries, David, (Estate)
Date: 12/23/21

21 Alvord Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: 21 Alvord Ave. LLC
Seller: Kirby A. Ward
Date: 12/03/21

57 Baltic Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $295,500
Buyer: Luis A. Reyes
Seller: Bruce R. Brun
Date: 12/17/21

8 Bennett St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $270,000
Buyer: Nancy E. Gosselin
Seller: Andrea Theriault
Date: 12/03/21

126 Bostwick Lane
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $235,000
Buyer: Tracey C. Ward
Seller: Denis Andre
Date: 12/02/21

24 Cadieux Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $199,900
Buyer: Nanette E. Figueroa
Seller: Lena J. Lamagdeleine
Date: 12/03/21

92 Carew St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $221,000
Buyer: Matthew L. Flood
Seller: Michael S. Miner
Date: 12/02/21

247 Carew St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $199,900
Buyer: Michael N. Penna
Seller: Paul T. Gebbie
Date: 12/02/21

449 Chicopee St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $290,000
Buyer: Yailene Otero
Seller: Robert W. Yates
Date: 12/17/21

818 Chicopee St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $900,000
Buyer: Esha Farm LLC
Seller: Deslauries, David, (Estate)
Date: 12/23/21

939 Chicopee St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $1,200,000
Buyer: KOR Realty LLC
Seller: Standex International Corp.
Date: 12/17/21

132 Clairmont Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Stephanie D. Lepsch
Seller: Dan G. Wilder
Date: 12/23/21

711 East Main St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $10,471,450
Buyer: Agilent Technologies Inc.
Seller: Oxford Investment LLC
Date: 12/21/21

391 Front St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $385,000
Buyer: Victor J. Garriga
Seller: Phoenix Development Inc.
Date: 11/30/21

292 Frontenac St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $322,000
Buyer: Tasha Rivera
Seller: Miguel Rodriguez-Cortes
Date: 12/22/21

110 Hampden St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $270,000
Buyer: Amyleeann Muniz
Seller: Wendy S. Markham
Date: 12/17/21

281 James St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $135,000
Buyer: Vantage Home Buyers LLC
Seller: Revampit LLC
Date: 12/02/21

97 Lombard St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $190,000
Buyer: Kaali Huang LLC
Seller: Hartling, Evelyn L., (Estate)
Date: 12/20/21

307 Mandalay Road
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $272,000
Buyer: Felix Andino
Seller: Kristen M. Gauthier
Date: 12/17/21

28 Marble Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $226,101
Buyer: Tyler Vaccaro
Seller: John F. Barry
Date: 12/21/21

70 Medford St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $236,000
Buyer: Nana K. Agyemang-Duah
Seller: Linda L. Parlee-Chowns
Date: 12/17/21

1692 Memorial Dr.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $425,000
Buyer: MD&PB Properties LLC
Seller: 896-900 Prospect St. Inc.
Date: 12/20/21

704 Memorial Dr.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $625,000
Buyer: AG Brothers LLC
Seller: Kyprea LLC
Date: 12/23/21

46 Mount Vernon Road
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $440,000
Buyer: Natanael Crespo
Seller: Ganna Boyko
Date: 12/20/21

88 Narragansett Blvd.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $148,000
Buyer: Arben Keka
Seller: Erik T. Pereira
Date: 12/20/21

196 Pendleton Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $216,000
Buyer: Jeremy A. Torres
Seller: Kevin A. Jemiolo
Date: 12/03/21

80 Providence St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $340,000
Buyer: Vianiee Gonzalez
Seller: Cy Group LLC
Date: 12/02/21

584 Sheridan St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $400,000
Buyer: Franky Soto
Seller: DGL Properties LLC
Date: 11/30/21

85 Southwick St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $310,000
Buyer: Luise M. Nieves
Seller: Thomas E. Dart
Date: 12/20/21

47 Taylor St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $268,000
Buyer: Jose M. Casimiro
Seller: Melissa Grasakis
Date: 12/01/21

40 Warregan St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: William Gonzalez-Crespo
Seller: Jacqueline Rivera
Date: 12/17/21

25 Western Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $271,000
Buyer: Joel E. Duron-Coca
Seller: Richard B. Elmer
Date: 12/17/21

1628 Westover Road
Chicopee, MA 01020
Amount: $308,000
Buyer: Maria I. Rosario-Torres
Seller: Michele T. Oparowski
Date: 12/17/21

2024 Westover Road
Chicopee, MA 01022
Amount: $900,000
Buyer: Steel City Sisters Group
Seller: Lee Regional Visiting
Date: 12/03/21

EAST LONGMEADOW

Bella Vista Dr. #14
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Amount: $204,900
Buyer: Adnan Dahdul
Seller: John J. Papale
Date: 12/20/21

27 Bunker Circle
East Longmeadow, MA 01108
Amount: $421,000
Buyer: Octavio Seijas
Seller: David S. Preste
Date: 12/01/21

11 Edmund St.
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Amount: $316,000
Buyer: Margaret G. Finnegan
Seller: Robert A. Black
Date: 11/29/21

25 Granby St.
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Amount: $237,500
Buyer: 25 Granby Street LLC
Seller: John Occhialini
Date: 12/21/21

37 High St.
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Amount: $252,000
Buyer: Bryce A. Peritz
Seller: Thomas J. Stewart
Date: 12/23/21

12 Holly Dr.
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Amount: $305,000
Buyer: Dennis A. Zambrano
Seller: Alan Notre
Date: 12/23/21

245 Maple St.
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Amount: $269,000
Buyer: Joaquim Costa
Seller: Michael J. Cook
Date: 11/30/21

14 Peachtree Road
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Amount: $650,000
Buyer: Charles W. Suglia
Seller: Paul D. Traina
Date: 12/03/21

48 Pine Grove Circle
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Amount: $765,000
Buyer: Victoria K. Pepper
Seller: Karen M. Phelan
Date: 12/02/21

216 Somers Road
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Amount: $300,000
Buyer: Angel L. Vega-Maldonado
Seller: Steven M. Suse
Date: 12/03/21

48 Tufts St.
East Longmeadow, MA 01108
Amount: $470,000
Buyer: Lauren J. Heaton
Seller: Darlene M. Demorad
Date: 11/30/21

62 Tufts St.
East Longmeadow, MA 01108
Amount: $370,000
Buyer: Nana Anowuo
Seller: FNMA
Date: 12/17/21

GRANVILLE

128 Crest Lane
Granville, MA 01034
Amount: $430,000
Buyer: Benjamin J. Reddall
Seller: Shaun Troy
Date: 12/17/21

1542 Main Road
Granville, MA 01034
Amount: $220,000
Buyer: Morgan K. Ireland
Seller: Deborah A. Dallaire
Date: 12/22/21

19 Old Westfield Road
Granville, MA 01034
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Timothy E. Fedora
Seller: Juan Ochoa
Date: 12/23/21

290 Water St.
Granville, MA 01034
Amount: $400,000
Buyer: Autumn Allen
Seller: Terry A. Dillon
Date: 12/03/21

HAMPDEN

51 Genevieve Dr.
Hampden, MA 01036
Amount: $300,000
Buyer: Tia Lafromboise
Seller: Brittany A. Moreland
Date: 12/03/21

180 Glendale Road
Hampden, MA 01036
Amount: $345,000
Buyer: Wayne E. Phaneuf
Seller: Prior, Jacqueline J., (Estate)
Date: 12/23/21

357 North Road
Hampden, MA 01036
Amount: $635,000
Buyer: Jason P. Dionne
Seller: Kenneth J. Berthiaume
Date: 11/29/21

HOLLAND

21 Craig Road
Holland, MA 01521
Amount: $650,000
Buyer: John D. Sciacca
Seller: Preston J. Gilpatrick
Date: 11/30/21

23 Craig Road
Holland, MA 01521
Amount: $671,000
Buyer: Anthony A. Marini
Seller: Mark S. Yaglowski
Date: 12/03/21

34 Craig Road
Holland, MA 01521
Amount: $150,000
Buyer: Mary C. Scannell
Seller: Michael J. Woznicki
Date: 11/30/21

56 Kimball Hill Road
Holland, MA 01521
Amount: $296,900
Buyer: Sara Meier
Seller: Scribner Management LLC
Date: 11/30/21

HOLYOKE

4 Anderson Ave.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $270,000
Buyer: Sierra Vaughan-Gabor
Seller: Angela T. Sweeney
Date: 12/02/21

77 Brookline Ave.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $299,900
Buyer: Lucila Bruno
Seller: Martinelli Martini & Gallag
Date: 12/21/21

139 Hillside Ave.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $205,000
Buyer: Hattie L. Adastra
Seller: Meghann A. Jurkowski
Date: 12/23/21

102 Homestead Ave.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $215,000
Buyer: Nathan B. Lapointe
Seller: Eric M. Rogers
Date: 11/30/21

366 Homestead Ave.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Francisco Rivera
Seller: Ethel M. Kennedy
Date: 12/17/21

34 King St.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $210,000
Buyer: Tyler C. Nelson
Seller: Linda L. Audet
Date: 12/20/21

2133 Northampton St.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $259,900
Buyer: Jordan Dill
Seller: Adam J. Braunschweig
Date: 12/03/21

1 Park Slope
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $289,900
Buyer: Danielle Schmidt
Seller: L. Mara Dodge
Date: 11/30/21

63 Pine St.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $135,000
Buyer: Nathaniel James
Seller: Lisette Velez
Date: 12/17/21

13 Roland St.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $239,000
Buyer: Daniel R. Poulin
Seller: Michael J. Fitzgerald
Date: 12/02/21

20 School St.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $228,000
Buyer: Nelson Figueroa
Seller: Lisa Rosario
Date: 11/30/21

95 Wedgewood Ter.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $214,000
Buyer: Katrina Turner
Seller: Jorge R. Diaz-Figueroa
Date: 11/29/21

108-110 West St.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Amount: $235,000
Buyer: Dorline Diaz-Garay
Seller: 4 Harps LLC
Date: 12/22/21

LONGMEADOW

32 Arcadia St.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $347,800
Buyer: Robert Mimaki
Seller: Nancy E. Croteau
Date: 12/17/21

Arcadia St.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $345,000
Buyer: Vicki L. Shotland
Seller: Orr, Sara J., (Estate)
Date: 12/17/21

242 Burbank Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $320,000
Buyer: Marta Flavin
Seller: Brett D. Pendragon
Date: 12/01/21

56 Cambridge Circle
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $325,000
Buyer: Custom Home Development Group LLC
Seller: Leon W. Bailey
Date: 11/30/21

153 Edgewood Ave.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $287,500
Buyer: Joseph P. Kocot
Seller: Lauren J. Heaton
Date: 11/30/21

42 Elm Ave.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $299,900
Buyer: Grace V. Helmich
Seller: Benjamin J. Barker
Date: 12/21/21

142 Elmwood Ave.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $223,500
Buyer: Edward F. Cassell
Seller: Swinski, Kenneth S., (Estate)
Date: 12/22/21

101 Ely Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $700,000
Buyer: Evan Dalton
Seller: Mingqi He
Date: 12/20/21

182 Englewood Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $325,000
Buyer: Larry R. Cloutier
Seller: Nissenbaum, Steven A., (Estate)
Date: 12/23/21

11 Forest Glen Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $325,000
Buyer: Rabih E. Yafawi
Seller: Baiqing Li
Date: 12/03/21

126 Greenacre Ave.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Jane Barrett
Seller: Tower, Anne M., (Estate)
Date: 12/03/21

162 Greenmeadow Dr.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $450,000
Buyer: Jennifer M. Hirst
Seller: Hsiang-Ching Kung
Date: 12/20/21

267 Kenmore Dr.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $320,000
Buyer: Brandon Harris
Seller: Robert L. Suttmiller
Date: 12/17/21

217 Laurel St.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $420,000
Buyer: Randolph S. Yanoshak
Seller: Lauren Rollins
Date: 12/01/21

21 Lincoln Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $361,000
Buyer: Tai T. Huynh
Seller: Rajendrasinh S. Mahida
Date: 12/17/21

857 Longmeadow St.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $755,000
Buyer: Benjamin Kraus
Seller: Robert A. Walsh
Date: 12/20/21

168 Maple Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $285,000
Buyer: Alan Notre
Seller: Samantha M. Dubner
Date: 12/23/21

737 Maple Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $295,000
Buyer: VK Heritage LLC
Seller: Sandra L. Olko
Date: 12/17/21

111 Nevins Ave.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $295,000
Buyer: Saosokrith Pech
Seller: Brianna J. Butcher
Date: 12/21/21

184 Nevins Ave.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $193,000
Buyer: SA Holding 2 LLC
Seller: David Ronaldson
Date: 12/22/21

216 Overbrook Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $1,137,500
Buyer: Daniel M. Flynn
Seller: R. Scott Smith
Date: 12/17/21

103 Quinnehtuk Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $602,500
Buyer: Syed M. Owais
Seller: James A. Fehily
Date: 11/30/21

89 Silver Birch Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $560,000
Buyer: O. Nadazdin-Boskovic
Seller: Michael R. Kessler
Date: 12/17/21

125 South Ave.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $350,000
Buyer: Edward J. Thomas
Seller: Paul F. McLaughlin
Date: 12/17/21

26 Tennyson Dr.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $822,000
Buyer: Rakesh Talati
Seller: Lisa M. Campbell
Date: 12/02/21

359 Williams St.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $475,000
Buyer: Jeffrey Murdock
Seller: John G. Bagley
Date: 12/20/21

173 Wolf Swamp Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Amount: $275,000
Buyer: Zachary Ferrara
Seller: Robin S. Odentz
Date: 12/23/21

LUDLOW

1st Ave.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $754,500
Buyer: Brownbox Properties LLC
Seller: Westmass Area Development Corp.
Date: 12/17/21

549 Alden St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $208,884
Buyer: Bank Of America
Seller: Patricia A. Messier
Date: 12/21/21

41 Arch St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Kyle Roy
Seller: Mary C. Gero
Date: 12/17/21

12 Autumn Ridge Road
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $550,000
Buyer: Arthur Ralph Gaudio TR
Seller: Hemlock Ridge LLC
Date: 12/03/21

132 Barna St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $263,000
Buyer: Brian Morris
Seller: John Fortune
Date: 11/29/21

52 Bliss St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $150,000
Buyer: Homestead Connections LLC
Seller: Ahearn, J., (Estate)
Date: 11/30/21

534 Center St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $750,000
Buyer: Haviland Pond LLC
Seller: Haviland Pond LP
Date: 12/01/21

676 Chapin St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Daniel J. Andreas
Seller: Drew R. Ledwith
Date: 11/30/21

1102 East St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $175,000
Buyer: Joao A. Dias
Seller: Thomas, Amy Elaine, (Estate)
Date: 12/17/21

172 Edison Dr.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $418,000
Buyer: Derya Tanriverdi
Seller: Jeffrey A. Touchette
Date: 12/20/21

150 Highland Ave.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $248,500
Buyer: Barbara E. Thompson
Seller: Michelle Elliot
Date: 12/21/21

70-84 Hubbard St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $600,000
Buyer: BK Investment LLC
Seller: Gary R. Guilmette
Date: 12/02/21

12 Keith Circle
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $241,000
Buyer: Brenda M. Opielowski
Seller: Matthew G. Nay
Date: 11/30/21

3 Leland Dr.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $670,000
Buyer: Michael P. Richardson
Seller: Michael L. Banville
Date: 12/17/21

125 Munsing St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $230,000
Buyer: Torretti Builders LLC
Seller: Mary Rarogiewicz
Date: 12/21/21

48 Nash Hill Road
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $359,900
Buyer: Matthew W. Beaudette
Seller: Carole C. Dighello
Date: 12/01/21

41 Stevens St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $226,000
Buyer: Grace Dias
Seller: Ruth L. Pancotti
Date: 11/30/21

223 Woodland Circle
Ludlow, MA 01056
Amount: $630,000
Buyer: Raymond MacDonald
Seller: Luis C. Martins
Date: 11/29/21

MONSON

74 Bethany Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $260,000
Buyer: Meghan L. Chotain
Seller: Andrew B. Johnston
Date: 12/20/21

141 Brimfield Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $288,000
Buyer: Peter D. Davenport
Seller: Heather M. Hartman
Date: 11/29/21

29 Bumstead Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $210,000
Buyer: Dominique P. Batiste
Seller: Sheena M. Carney
Date: 12/03/21

4 Carpenter Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Robert T. Morrin
Seller: Emma Ladd-Shepherd
Date: 11/30/21

47 Cote Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $500,000
Buyer: Trevor E. Wentworth
Seller: Daniel W. Zglobicki
Date: 12/03/21

109 Cote Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $156,000
Buyer: Kenneth Chaplin
Seller: US Bank
Date: 12/02/21

179 Fenton Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $333,000
Buyer: Jason M. Seybold
Seller: PB Partners Development LLC
Date: 12/17/21

28 Main St.
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $444,244
Buyer: SBA Management LLC
Seller: Margaret S. Glassman
Date: 12/23/21

8 Margaret St.
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $195,000
Buyer: Karl J. Gunther
Seller: Bonnie E. Turnberg
Date: 12/02/21

231 Munn Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $330,000
Buyer: Gary W. Barrows
Seller: Terri A. Anderson
Date: 11/30/21

16 Pinnacle Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $350,000
Buyer: Kourtney Senquiz
Seller: David P. Ruiz
Date: 12/02/21

43 Robbins Road
Monson, MA 01057
Amount: $325,000
Buyer: Stanley R. Lamb
Seller: Nissenbaum, Steven A., (Estate)
Date: 12/03/21

PALMER

261 Barker St.
Palmer, MA 01080
Amount: $255,000
Buyer: Matthew Brotherton
Seller: Eric M. Nacsin
Date: 12/23/21

25 Belchertown St.
Palmer, MA 01080
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Chandra Jackson
Seller: David Oliveira
Date: 12/01/21

139 Boston Road
Palmer, MA 01069
Amount: $315,000
Buyer: Richard A. Houle
Seller: Stanley R. Lamb
Date: 12/03/21

141 Breckenridge St.
Palmer, MA 01069
Amount: $315,000
Buyer: Medgine Fleury
Seller: Travis J. Richer
Date: 12/01/21

1084 Central St.
Palmer, MA 01069
Amount: $275,000
Buyer: Nicholas R. Smick
Seller: Ryan P. Ratcliffe
Date: 11/30/21

106 Flynt St.
Palmer, MA 01069
Amount: $237,000
Buyer: Maribel Ortiz
Seller: Laura A. Martin
Date: 12/22/21

8 George St.
Palmer, MA 01069
Amount: $310,000
Buyer: Jenna Dziok
Seller: Aaron McKee
Date: 12/17/21

4037 Hill St.
Palmer, MA 01069
Amount: $355,000
Buyer: Max E. Bock
Seller: Peter J. Kuzontkoski
Date: 11/30/21

2 Pioneer Dr.
Palmer, MA 01069
Amount: $439,700
Buyer: Judith T. Tumusiime
Seller: Dustin T. Hermann
Date: 12/03/21

2014 Quaboag St.
Palmer, MA 01080
Amount: $259,900
Buyer: Allison A. Flebotte
Seller: Brital 1987 LLC
Date: 12/23/21

382 Rondeau St.
Palmer, MA 01069
Amount: $260,000
Buyer: Mandi Laisure
Seller: Brenda M. Opielowski
Date: 11/30/21

RUSSELL

1440 Blandford Road
Russell, MA 01071
Amount: $204,450
Buyer: Rondell Stauffer
Seller: Henry W. Mikucki
Date: 12/01/21

260 Blandford Road
Russell, MA 01070
Amount: $535,900
Buyer: Adam J. Braunschweig
Seller: Jason S. Fiddler
Date: 12/03/21

1441 Blandford Road
Russell, MA 01071
Amount: $210,000
Buyer: Jeffrey Footit
Seller: Jesse M. Veprauskas
Date: 12/22/21

25 Blandford Stage Road
Russell, MA 01071
Amount: $220,000
Buyer: Austin W. Fortier
Seller: Luke Paull
Date: 12/01/21

SPRINGFIELD

375 Allen St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $2,223,281
Buyer: Gregory Springfield LLC
Seller: NDA 385 Allen St LLC
Date: 12/03/21

645 Allen St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $299,000
Buyer: Loriann Ruiz
Seller: Theresa A. Zheleznyakov
Date: 12/20/21

127 Ambrose St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $115,000
Buyer: Pascacio Reynoso
Seller: Jose R. Martinez
Date: 12/03/21

35 Andrew St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $179,000
Buyer: Raquel Reyes
Seller: Carlos Duran
Date: 12/02/21

137 Bellevue Ave.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $310,000
Buyer: Fred Swan
Seller: David J. Maradyn
Date: 12/23/21

293 Belmont Ave.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $260,000
Buyer: Ericka Vasquez-Lopez
Seller: Tuan Tran
Date: 12/21/21

486-494 Belmont Ave.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $840,000
Buyer: JK Wave Inc.
Seller: Carriage Funeral Holding Inc.
Date: 12/20/21

855 Belmont Ave.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $220,000
Buyer: Invest Best Lending LLC
Seller: Ether Properties LLC
Date: 12/01/21

79 Benz St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $285,000
Buyer: Thi N. Huynh
Seller: Vito M. Dellaera
Date: 12/20/21

586 Berkshire Ave.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $420,000
Buyer: Sanchez Family Enterprises LLC
Seller: David Haluch
Date: 12/01/21

58-60 Bither St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $175,000
Buyer: Kevin J. Reilly
Seller: Stephen M. Reilly
Date: 12/17/21

216 Breckwood Blvd.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $230,000
Buyer: Kevin S. Diaz
Seller: Jesmaniel Bermudez
Date: 12/03/21

26 Brookside Circle
Springfield, MA 01129
Amount: $124,000
Buyer: Jorge L. Rodriguez
Seller: Biagio Cordiano
Date: 12/03/21

40 Bulat Dr.
Springfield, MA 01129
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Loudine Alty
Seller: Felicia Griffin
Date: 11/30/21

25 Burke St.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $290,000
Buyer: Aisha K. Gonzalez
Seller: Veronica M. Reyes
Date: 11/30/21

386-388 Carew St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $293,000
Buyer: Kimberly Paine
Seller: Paul E. Carmody
Date: 12/02/21

417-419 Carew St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Maira Silva
Seller: Cindy R. King
Date: 12/21/21

834 Carew St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $390,000
Buyer: Kelnate Realty LLC
Seller: 834 Carew Street LLC
Date: 12/03/21

1061 Carew St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $220,000
Buyer: Jose Colon-Torres
Seller: Denali Properties LLC
Date: 11/29/21

157 Carver St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $225,000
Buyer: Michael Riggins
Seller: Mizraim Rodriguez
Date: 12/03/21

33 Castle St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $267,700
Buyer: Rebecca L. Rothberg
Seller: David Lussier
Date: 12/17/21

63 Chauncey Dr.
Springfield, MA 01129
Amount: $120,000
Buyer: Perry Dulude
Seller: Skwisz, R., (Estate)
Date: 12/22/21

17 Chilson St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $230,000
Buyer: Paula Medina
Seller: Angel M. Senquiz
Date: 12/02/21

9-11 Cloran St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $310,000
Buyer: Kathiana Mathieu
Seller: Michael Gardner
Date: 12/02/21

117 Cloran St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $145,000
Buyer: Prime Partners LLC
Seller: Estella M. Lyons
Date: 12/03/21

95 Clough St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Victor Diaz
Seller: Joseph J. Neff
Date: 12/02/21

246-248 College St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $255,000
Buyer: Shane A. Rhiney
Seller: Alicia H. Porter
Date: 12/23/21

147 Colton St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $225,000
Buyer: Summers Sunshine
Seller: 147 Colton Street LLC
Date: 12/23/21

595 Cottage St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $750,000
Buyer: Brockway Realty LLC
Seller: G&R Properties LLC
Date: 12/23/21

24 Craig St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $239,900
Buyer: Khyam Darjee
Seller: Freedom Mortgage Corp.
Date: 12/02/21

30 Craig St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $128,700
Buyer: JCG Investments LLC
Seller: Pennymac Loan Services LLC
Date: 12/20/21

14 Dalton Place
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $171,000
Buyer: Daina Rosa
Seller: Robert V. Swanson
Date: 12/03/21

6 Delaware Ave.
Springfield, MA 01119
Amount: $365,000
Buyer: Jennife Gonzalez-Morales
Seller: Homes RE Vent LLC
Date: 12/02/21

725 Dickinson St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $290,000
Buyer: Chastity Nieves
Seller: Arthur H. Helmus
Date: 12/23/21

17 Earl St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $155,000
Buyer: Romanus C. Maduabuchi
Seller: Michael Molinari
Date: 11/30/21

129 Eddy St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $205,000
Buyer: Roger J. Ramsey
Seller: Bonnie J. Lynch
Date: 12/22/21

55 Edendale St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $220,000
Buyer: Normari Rivera
Seller: Equity Trust Co.
Date: 12/20/21

84 Edgewood St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $226,000
Buyer: Maria P. DeLeon
Seller: Hayder Alhamdani
Date: 12/17/21

36 Eldridge St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $140,000
Buyer: Venancio Ramos
Seller: Brenda J. Burgess
Date: 11/29/21

133 Entrybrook Dr.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $270,000
Buyer: Ebonee Ganious
Seller: Roseline C. Chiuwa
Date: 12/23/21

24-26 Ferris St.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $285,000
Buyer: Huiqing Zhu
Seller: Mark T. Laramee
Date: 12/22/21

102 Florida St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $190,000
Buyer: John S. Marrero
Seller: Paula Nowick
Date: 11/30/21

30 Ford St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $165,000
Buyer: Anthony C. Demaio
Seller: Kathleen R. Duncan
Date: 12/20/21

148 Glenoak Dr.
Springfield, MA 01129
Amount: $283,500
Buyer: Jose Gonzalez
Seller: James Schmidt
Date: 11/30/21

868 Grayson Dr.
Springfield, MA 01119
Amount: $200,000
Buyer: Ryane Babyak
Seller: William H. Keet
Date: 12/01/21

38 Greenbrier St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $300,000
Buyer: Mohamed Ali
Seller: Victor M. Rojas
Date: 12/01/21

239 Gresham St.
Springfield, MA 01119
Amount: $380,000
Buyer: Magaly Lopez-Ramos
Seller: Bretta Construction LLC
Date: 12/20/21

207 Groveland St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $237,000
Buyer: Jessica M. Laboy
Seller: Stephanie A. Meekin
Date: 12/02/21

19 Hawthorne St.
Springfield, MA 01105
Amount: $195,000
Buyer: Lakisha Collins
Seller: Magdalene Kelly
Date: 12/03/21

228 Hermitage Dr.
Springfield, MA 01129
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Michael P. Lamoureux
Seller: Bell L., (Estate)
Date: 12/01/21

90 Hillside Dr.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Hector R. Rosado
Seller: Mary T. Critelli
Date: 12/02/21

412 Island Pond Road
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $130,000
Buyer: M&F Vazquez Home Improve
Seller: Wilmington Savings
Date: 12/22/21

25 Ivan St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $155,000
Buyer: Kyle Menard
Seller: John H. Keith
Date: 11/29/21

70 Jonquil Dr.
Springfield, MA 01119
Amount: $243,000
Buyer: Vanessa Lima
Seller: Stephen W. Wyszynski
Date: 11/30/21

60-62 Kamuda St.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $325,000
Buyer: Zhi Huang
Seller: Paula C. Deferreira
Date: 11/30/21

72 Kensington Ave.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $340,000
Buyer: Richard C. Ferullo
Seller: Kan Zhang
Date: 12/03/21

86 Kirk Dr.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $220,000
Buyer: Damaris Melendez
Seller: Frederick Barile
Date: 12/21/21

66 Larchmont St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Jose M. Riveraortiz
Seller: Madeline Rodriguez
Date: 12/02/21

109-111 Leavitt St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $275,000
Buyer: Angel L. Reyes
Seller: Moises Zanazanian
Date: 11/30/21

1225 Liberty St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $23,000,000
Buyer: 1277 Liberty 10190746 LLC
Seller: Albany Road Springfield Plaza LLC
Date: 12/22/21

158 Littleton St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $200,000
Buyer: Juan Bermudez
Seller: James W. Scott
Date: 12/20/21

2460 Main St.
Springfield, MA 01107
Amount: $800,000
Buyer: Isla Associates 1 LLC
Seller: Brightwood Development Corp.
Date: 12/03/21

57 Manchester Ter.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Jose Rosado
Seller: Albert C. Kalmbach
Date: 11/29/21

8 Marlborough St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $197,000
Buyer: Tyeschiea L. Richards
Seller: Rita Gil
Date: 12/03/21

28 McBride St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $148,000
Buyer: Jose Cotte
Seller: Smith, Drew M., (Estate)
Date: 12/03/21

53 Merrill Road
Springfield, MA 01119
Amount: $170,000
Buyer: James Poreda
Seller: Garland Smith
Date: 12/21/21

75 Mohegan Ave.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $150,000
Buyer: James J. Silva
Seller: William Harrison
Date: 12/02/21

20 Monticello Ave.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $235,000
Buyer: Dolores Hale
Seller: Arianna L. Cage
Date: 11/30/21

323 Morton St.
Springfield, MA 01119
Amount: $385,000
Buyer: Chloe J. Cincotta
Seller: Homes Real Estate Ventures LLC
Date: 11/30/21

56 Mulberry St.
Springfield, MA 01105
Amount: $289,500
Buyer: Daniel P. Thibeault
Seller: Jennifer Nwaifejokwu
Date: 11/30/21

113 Newland St.
Springfield, MA 01107
Amount: $335,000
Buyer: Friday Williams
Seller: Serge Dikan
Date: 12/21/21

23 North Hood St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $160,000
Buyer: Patrick Ogilvie
Seller: Patricia A. Pepin
Date: 12/01/21

196 Oak Grove Ave.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $230,000
Buyer: Maritza Delgado-Rivera
Seller: Emtay Inc.
Date: 12/03/21

78 Oak St.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $275,000
Buyer: Om Belmont Ave. LLC
Seller: Amaan Realty LLC
Date: 11/30/21

84 Orange St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $256,000
Buyer: Joann Agramonte
Seller: Lisa M. Sarno
Date: 12/17/21

32 Overlea Dr.
Springfield, MA 01129
Amount: $240,000
Buyer: Nediem N. Velez-Acevedo
Seller: Smith, Kathleen M., (Estate)
Date: 11/30/21

24-26 Palmer Ave.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $231,000
Buyer: Belkis Alvarez
Seller: AJN Rentals LLC
Date: 12/22/21

132 Parkerview St.
Springfield, MA 01129
Amount: $242,000
Buyer: Cristiane Fischer
Seller: Richard E. McNabb
Date: 12/03/21

85 Penncastle St.
Springfield, MA 01129
Amount: $274,000
Buyer: Leonard J. Giannetti
Seller: Jason M. Seybold
Date: 12/17/21

23 Pennsylvania Ave.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $230,000
Buyer: Omar J. Olmo-Valles
Seller: Justin R. Bullard
Date: 12/03/21

31 Pheland St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Shawn Alexander
Seller: Emmanuel Tete-Donkor
Date: 11/30/21

247 Pheland St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $225,000
Buyer: Maria D. Nunez
Seller: Lissette M. Rivera
Date: 12/22/21

172 Quincy St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $216,000
Buyer: Marilou B. Krause
Seller: Wilson Tejeda
Date: 12/17/21

27 Reed St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $190,000
Buyer: Nikayla A. Chapman
Seller: Gerome K. Gore
Date: 12/20/21

49 Rimmon Ave.
Springfield, MA 01107
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Michael Martinez
Seller: Ryan Deland
Date: 12/02/21

49-51 Rittenhouse Ter.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $320,000
Buyer: Simone D. DosSantos-Alves
Seller: Allan M. Maende
Date: 12/23/21

34 Rutledge Ave.
Springfield, MA 01105
Amount: $160,000
Buyer: Rodman Capital Group LLC
Seller: Paul R. Stevens
Date: 12/17/21

1200 Saint James Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $130,000
Buyer: Lamont C. Thomas
Seller: Idelramon Izquierdo
Date: 11/30/21

197 Shawmut St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $220,000
Buyer: Hector Martinez
Seller: Christine A. Johnson
Date: 11/29/21

228 Shawmut St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $238,000
Buyer: Victor Lopez
Seller: Round 2 LLC
Date: 11/30/21

33 Sherbrooke St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Amount: $270,000
Buyer: Jose A. Dilone
Seller: Benny Crespo
Date: 12/17/21

60-62 Suffolk St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $225,000
Buyer: Wilfredo Arvelo-Ruiz
Seller: Genevieve Construction Development Group
Date: 11/29/21

30 Sumner Ter.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $312,000
Buyer: Orlando Mora
Seller: Kevin J. Kaczynski
Date: 11/29/21

1357 Sumner Ave.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $213,000
Buyer: Kerri-Ann Warren
Seller: Reinaldo Guzman
Date: 12/20/21

34-36 Sylvan St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $262,000
Buyer: Melinda A. Carey
Seller: Keron K. Baker
Date: 12/20/21

45 Talmadge Dr.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $253,000
Buyer: Paul F. Carmody
Seller: James J. Silva
Date: 12/02/21

85 Tamarack Dr.
Springfield, MA 01119
Amount: $231,000
Buyer: Idaliz Melendez
Seller: McCarthy, Stephen F., (Estate)
Date: 12/21/21

99 Tavistock St.
Springfield, MA 01119
Amount: $205,000
Buyer: Marie C. Molina
Seller: Cynthia C. Shaughnessy
Date: 12/17/21

71-73 Tulsa St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $315,000
Buyer: David J. Audet
Seller: Eric D. Ainsworth
Date: 12/22/21

83 Vann St.
Springfield, MA 01129
Amount: $311,000
Buyer: Julio A. Viruet
Seller: Ryan A. Brown
Date: 12/03/21

Vanness Ave.
Springfield, MA 01101
Amount: $210,000
Buyer: JJJ17 LLC
Seller: JJJ17 LLC
Date: 11/30/21

50 Wason Ave.
Springfield, MA 01107
Amount: $26,762,981
Buyer: Baystate Medical Center Inc.
Seller: Wason Ave. Partners 3 LLC
Date: 12/01/21

241-243 Water St.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $345,000
Buyer: 552 West High LLC
Seller: MS Homes LLC
Date: 12/02/21

245 Water St.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $345,000
Buyer: 552 West High LLC
Seller: MS Homes LLC
Date: 12/02/21

131 Welland Road
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Thomas Noonan
Seller: Debra L. Crepea
Date: 12/23/21

36 Weymouth St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $225,000
Buyer: Trey Cushman
Seller: Mary L. Disantis
Date: 12/21/21

230-232 White St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $330,000
Buyer: Alpina Williams
Seller: Equity Trust Co.
Date: 12/22/21

742-744 White St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Amount: $185,000
Buyer: Geovanni Montesino
Seller: Fred M. Cocchi
Date: 12/20/21

393 Wilbraham Road
Springfield, MA 01109
Amount: $410,000
Buyer: Gama Investments LLC
Seller: Trinh T. Tran
Date: 12/20/21

56 Winding Lane
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $160,000
Buyer: Michelle Stuart
Seller: Harvey, Jay L., (Estate)
Date: 12/03/21

86 Winding Lane
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $272,000
Buyer: Tek B. Budathoki
Seller: Laura A. Braica
Date: 12/20/21

120 Winton St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Amount: $266,000
Buyer: Walter L. Martinez
Seller: SRV Properties LLC
Date: 12/17/21

72 Woodrow St.
Springfield, MA 01119
Amount: $225,999
Buyer: Mary I. Rodriguez
Seller: Jason Nicholson
Date: 11/29/21

1182 Worcester St.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $355,000
Buyer: BRVS LLC
Seller: MS Homes LLC
Date: 12/02/21

1188 Worcester St.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $355,000
Buyer: BRVS LLC
Seller: MS Homes LLC
Date: 12/02/21

1417 Worcester St.
Springfield, MA 01151
Amount: $225,000
Buyer: Porfirio Molina
Seller: Alycar Investments LLC
Date: 12/17/21

787 Worthington St.
Springfield, MA 01105
Amount: $210,000
Buyer: Yarmin G. Colon
Seller: Amat Victoria Curam LLC
Date: 12/03/21

889 Worthington St.
Springfield, MA 01105
Amount: $280,000
Buyer: Nathaniel James
Seller: RWM RE Investment LLC
Date: 12/17/21

SOUTHWICK

64 Buckingham Dr.
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $175,000
Buyer: Gloria J. Collazo
Seller: Barowsky, Charles L., (Estate)
Date: 12/21/21

31 Coes Hill Road
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $330,000
Buyer: Jesse Veprauskas
Seller: David M. Meyer
Date: 12/23/21

49 Coes Hill Road
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $160,000
Buyer: Michael Werman
Seller: Wolfe, Theodore H., (Estate)
Date: 12/01/21

49-R Coes Hill Road
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $160,000
Buyer: Michael Werman
Seller: Wolfe, Theodore H., (Estate)
Date: 12/01/21

175 College Highway
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $202,500
Buyer: Benjamin V. Arcangeli
Seller: Thomas A. Montagna
Date: 12/17/21

14 Fenton Dr.
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $365,000
Buyer: Jarrod N. Goss
Seller: Stephen Pelkey
Date: 12/17/21

89 Hillside Road
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $502,000
Buyer: Michael S. Grobe
Seller: Gina M. Page
Date: 12/02/21

18 Shaggbark Dr.
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $307,400
Buyer: Daniel J. Gelina
Seller: Keith A. Long
Date: 12/23/21

Silvergrass Lane #11
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $142,500
Buyer: Hamelin Framing Inc.
Seller: Fiore Realty Holdings LLC
Date: 12/22/21

Silvergrass Lane #8
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $127,500
Buyer: Hamelin Framing Inc.
Seller: Fiore Realty Holdings LLC
Date: 12/22/21

281 South Longyard Road
Southwick, MA 01077
Amount: $439,900
Buyer: Jason S. Fiddler
Seller: Andrew S. Felix
Date: 12/03/21

TOLLAND

120 Brook Lane
Tolland, MA 01034
Amount: $415,500
Buyer: Robert Archer
Seller: Karen E. Mernoff
Date: 12/02/21

WALES

41 Lake George Road
Wales, MA 01081
Amount: $216,300
Buyer: Yakov Kronrod
Seller: Wilmington Savings
Date: 11/30/21

33 Sizer Dr.
Wales, MA 01081
Amount: $390,000
Buyer: Emily Dunbar
Seller: Katie S. Martin
Date: 11/29/21

148 Stafford Road
Wales, MA 01081
Amount: $255,000
Buyer: Michael Delnegro
Seller: Thomas, Robert V., (Estate)
Date: 12/17/21

198 Stafford Road
Wales, MA 01081
Amount: $212,800
Buyer: GJL RNL NT
Seller: Shannon M. Blando
Date: 12/20/21

90 Stafford Road
Wales, MA 01081
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Jonathan G. Carbonneau
Seller: Mary A. Grueter
Date: 12/22/21

15 Walker Road
Wales, MA 01081
Amount: $235,000
Buyer: Brett A. Ouimette
Seller: Petrie Rubio Ent. LLC
Date: 12/20/21

WEST SPRINGFIELD

35 Armstrong St.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Caroline Novelli
Seller: Jennife Gonzalez-Morales
Date: 12/02/21

24 Bear Hole Road
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $357,000
Buyer: James R. Regnier
Seller: Morytko, John A. Jr., (Estate)
Date: 12/21/21

62 Blossom Road
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Sandra E. Pinkham
Seller: Guistina, Rhea C., (Estate)
Date: 12/17/21

99 Bosworth St.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $275,000
Buyer: Nargiza Afrailova
Seller: David F. Piangerelli
Date: 11/30/21

8 Bretton Road
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $414,000
Buyer: Felecia Griffin
Seller: Lane, Nancy E., (Estate)
Date: 11/30/21

323 Cold Spring Ave.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $163,000
Buyer: Lindsay Abdelmaseh
Seller: Harry Kalamarakis
Date: 12/22/21

59 Day St.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $345,000
Buyer: Andrii Tverdokhlib
Seller: Sergey A. Kripakov
Date: 12/17/21

120 Hampden St.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $145,000
Buyer: Alycar Investments LLC
Seller: Abare, Thomas M. Sr., (Estate)
Date: 12/22/21

35 Morningside Ter.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Raj Dhimal
Seller: Nicholas Larivee
Date: 12/17/21

40 Moseley Ave.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Kiran Gotamay
Seller: Man B. Rana
Date: 12/03/21

150 Pine St.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $350,000
Buyer: Gagan Naubag
Seller: Mandhoj Gurung
Date: 12/03/21

1407 Piper Road
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $406,500
Buyer: Thomas P. Silva
Seller: Nancy M. Nadeau
Date: 12/01/21

55 Redden Road
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $395,000
Buyer: Erica Cadiz
Seller: Daniel K. Carney
Date: 12/17/21

28 Smith Ave.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $280,000
Buyer: Alexander Shaver
Seller: James P. Nestor
Date: 11/30/21

39 South Blvd.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Dream Realty Group LLC
Seller: Nicole E. Eutiquio
Date: 12/22/21

145 Upper Beverly Hills
West Springfield, MA 01089
Amount: $235,000
Buyer: Cecelia Kryzwick
Seller: Denise M. Labelle
Date: 12/23/21

WESTFIELD

45 Breighly Way
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $525,000
Buyer: Alexander Fagnand
Seller: Spencer Loftus
Date: 12/02/21

276 Buck Pond Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Nancy Handy
Seller: Ronald St Marie
Date: 12/17/21

29 Cedar Lane
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $174,305
Buyer: Bank New York Mellon
Seller: Ernest Dupee
Date: 11/30/21

46 Crane Ave.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $285,000
Buyer: Ismael Rivera-Diaz
Seller: Michael J. Sweeney
Date: 12/02/21

22 Dry Bridge Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $246,900
Buyer: Eugene A. Swift
Seller: Daniel J. Gelina
Date: 12/23/21

80 Elizabeth Ave.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $340,000
Buyer: Lizette Rodriguez
Seller: Donald Appleton
Date: 12/20/21

107 Farnham Lane
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Vasiliy I. Okhrimenko
Seller: Louis J. Annino
Date: 11/30/21

25 Gary Dr.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $477,500
Buyer: Marco Liquori
Seller: McGovern, Robert P., (Estate)
Date: 11/30/21

55 Gifford Ave.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $389,000
Buyer: Nathaniel L. Nunez
Seller: Richard P. Harrison
Date: 12/21/21

187 Granville Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $275,000
Buyer: Karen H. Payne
Seller: Alexander D. Fagnand
Date: 12/01/21

19 High St.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $235,000
Buyer: Brian G. Desilets
Seller: Nathaniel L. Nunez
Date: 12/21/21

46 Janelle Dr.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $465,000
Buyer: Morgan Sanders
Seller: Brian D. Sanders
Date: 12/23/21

14 Jessie Lane
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $415,000
Buyer: Brian Whitman
Seller: Cassandra Sgueglia
Date: 11/30/21

40 Knollwood Dr.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $225,000
Buyer: Brice W. Herrick
Seller: Richard W. Gast
Date: 12/17/21

180 Little River Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $248,000
Buyer: Daniel Batir
Seller: Anthony C. Bannish
Date: 12/03/21

12 Maria Dr.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Ian Sullivan
Seller: Normand V. Champagne
Date: 11/30/21

164 Montgomery Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $275,000
Buyer: Mike Covileac
Seller: Wendell P. Dickinson
Date: 12/23/21

49 Northwest Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $250,000
Buyer: Peter Garstka
Seller: Eric Harshbarger
Date: 12/17/21

55 Northwest Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $235,000
Buyer: Michael Hunt
Seller: Kelly J. Silvestri
Date: 12/02/21

28 Old Feeding Hills Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $225,000
Buyer: Katelyn Mcgovern
Seller: Constance B. Carson
Date: 11/29/21

22 Otis St.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $184,900
Buyer: David L. Letellier
Seller: Stuart M. Conner
Date: 12/01/21

45 Pequot Point Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $298,629
Buyer: Kyle J. Cyr
Seller: Egloff, John J. Jr., (Estate)
Date: 12/17/21

19 Princeton St.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $265,000
Buyer: Kemar Dwaynes-Stephens
Seller: Joseph R. Moynihan
Date: 12/22/21

200 Reservoir Ave.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $168,165
Buyer: Jay M. Bushey
Seller: Jay M. Bushey
Date: 12/21/21

57 Rosedell Dr.
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $270,000
Buyer: Iris Febres-Dompreh
Seller: Avery J. Sheehan
Date: 12/01/21

222 Russellville Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $135,000
Buyer: Jennifer Yanyuk
Seller: Kathryn Cowles
Date: 12/02/21

246 Russellville Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $645,000
Buyer: Jennifer Yanyuk
Seller: Kathryn Cowles
Date: 12/02/21

65 Shannon Lane
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $310,000
Buyer: Troy Adams
Seller: Shirley A. White
Date: 12/02/21

309 Southwick Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $235,000
Buyer: Charles Beaulieu
Seller: Margaret A. Cavanaugh
Date: 11/30/21

81 Yeoman Ave
Westfield, MA 01085
Amount: $255,000
Buyer: Michael J. Rigali
Seller: Jacqueline Paye
Date: 11/30/21

WILBRAHAM

2 Brooklawn Road
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $400,000
Buyer: Jamie L. Fiorentino
Seller: Kathleen M. Brenner
Date: 12/03/21

4 Daniele Dr.
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $320,000
Buyer: Brendon Fontanella
Seller: Carol Daniele
Date: 11/30/21

8 Dollar Ave.
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $400,000
Buyer: SMC Properties LLP
Seller: Harris Properties LLC
Date: 12/23/21

10 Highridge Road
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $546,000
Buyer: Karen M. Hall
Seller: Catherine W. Labine
Date: 12/20/21

9 Linwood Dr.
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $342,000
Buyer: Marla J. Jarrell
Seller: Barbara Robert
Date: 11/30/21

384 Main St.
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $287,000
Buyer: Andrew A. Jacque
Seller: SK3 Realty LLC
Date: 12/03/21

8 Meadowview Road
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $299,000
Buyer: Michael J. Stirlacci
Seller: Madalena L. Diniz
Date: 12/03/21

15 Southwood Road
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $433,000
Buyer: Jennifer Puhalski
Seller: Susan B. Aiken
Date: 12/22/21

106 Springfield St.
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $320,000
Buyer: Madison M. Chmyzinski
Seller: Melinda S. Oleksiak
Date: 12/17/21

335 Stony Hill Road
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $296,400
Buyer: Vantage Home Buyers LLC
Seller: Katie Klem
Date: 12/01/21

89-91 Stony Hill Road
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Amount: $309,000
Buyer: Stony Hill LLC
Seller: BK Invest LLC
Date: 11/30/21

 

HAMPSHIRE COUNTY

AMHERST

55 Baker St.
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $604,055
Buyer: Colin J. Gleason
Seller: Benjamin A. Surner
Date: 11/30/21

1175 Bay Road
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $415,000
Buyer: Marco Monoc
Seller: Robert W. Ritchie
Date: 11/30/21

367 Bay Road
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $455,000
Buyer: Jarrod Thompson
Seller: Gladys L. Rodriguez
Date: 11/29/21

10 Bridle Path
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $460,000
Buyer: Kevin C. Klement
Seller: Oates, Stephen B., (Estate)
Date: 11/30/21

338 College St.
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $1,510,000
Buyer: 338 College Street LLC
Seller: Spirit Corp. Of Amherst
Date: 12/01/21

86 Dana St.
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $496,500
Buyer: Gonen Dori-Hacohen
Seller: Kenneth W. Samonds
Date: 12/17/21

269 Lincoln Ave.
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $340,000
Buyer: Natalie Stephenson
Seller: Zephaniah Varley
Date: 11/30/21

Lindenridge Road #20
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $175,000
Buyer: Countryside Home Builders Inc.
Seller: Bercume Construction LLC
Date: 11/29/21

710 Main St.
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $280,000
Buyer: Karyad B. Hallam
Seller: Loren Wellesley-Walker
Date: 12/17/21

19 Research Dr.
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $736,000
Buyer: Amherst Office Park LLC
Seller: Sand Dollar RT
Date: 12/23/21

46 Sunset Ave.
Amherst, MA 01002
Amount: $950,000
Buyer: Amherst Colleg
Seller: Lucy Wilson Benson RET
Date: 12/17/21

BELCHERTOWN

433 Amherst Road
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $380,000
Buyer: Robert H. Adair
Seller: Diane M. Lemire
Date: 12/20/21

62 Barton Ave.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $305,000
Buyer: Jake Swinicki
Seller: John M. McCue
Date: 12/21/21

74 Bay Road
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $325,000
Buyer: Benjamin D. Gross IRT
Seller: Thomas A. Bliss
Date: 12/17/21

81 Bay Road
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $257,000
Buyer: Noel E. Acevedo
Seller: John Coelho
Date: 12/17/21

29 Depot St.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $142,000
Buyer: Antonio Carvalho
Seller: Jared Moriarty
Date: 12/03/21

12 Dogwood Dr.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $572,000
Buyer: Basil A. Stewart
Seller: Yang Liu
Date: 11/29/21

16 Grela Ter.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $310,000
Buyer: Gerald S. Bolduc
Seller: Henrichon, Robert J., (Estate)
Date: 12/21/21

56 North Main St.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $268,000
Buyer: Shawn E. Rivard
Seller: Robert H. Adair
Date: 12/20/21

401 North Washington St.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $343,000
Buyer: Felicia Siclari
Seller: Heidi M. Bradway
Date: 12/22/21

590 North Washington St.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $375,000
Buyer: Elizabeth H. Skelly
Seller: Michael Teixeira
Date: 12/17/21

191 Orchard St.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $279,900
Buyer: David G. Higgins
Seller: Douglas W. Adler
Date: 12/20/21

270 State St.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $180,000
Buyer: Denise A. Pooler
Seller: Paula M. Kirkpatrick
Date: 12/03/21

60 Woodhaven Dr.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Amount: $425,000
Buyer: Dat H. Nguyen
Seller: Derek M. Sullivan
Date: 11/30/21

CUMMINGTON

1 Honey Hill Road
Cummington, MA 01026
Amount: $189,000
Buyer: Christine M. Brandon
Seller: Bonnie A. Hunt
Date: 12/20/21

75 Mount Road
Cummington, MA 01026
Amount: $486,000
Buyer: Lauren E. Bullis
Seller: John W. Gurney RET
Date: 12/03/21

Trouble St.
Cummington, MA 01026
Amount: $189,000
Buyer: Christine M. Brandon
Seller: Bonnie A. Hunt
Date: 12/20/21

EASTHAMPTON

4 1st Ave.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $337,500
Buyer: Christopher Heon
Seller: Amberlynn Inglis
Date: 11/30/21

3 Button Road
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $505,000
Buyer: Andrew M. Blefeld
Seller: Debbie L. Patterson
Date: 12/01/21

6 Carol Ave.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $322,500
Buyer: Jonah S. Vorspan-Stein
Seller: Joseph Korza
Date: 12/17/21

20 Florence Road
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $607,000
Buyer: Dylan Rickles
Seller: Gigi Rentals LLC
Date: 12/21/21

14 High St.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $275,000
Buyer: Victoria Gumaer
Seller: David Y. Cohen
Date: 11/30/21

17 Laurin Lane
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $417,000
Buyer: Paul McMillan
Seller: Antti R. Kaisla
Date: 12/20/21

1 Louise Ave.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $340,000
Buyer: Robert Scott
Seller: Cassy A. Cohoon
Date: 12/17/21

18 Strong St.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $460,000
Buyer: Mario R. Paiva
Seller: Cole R. Pouliot
Date: 12/01/21

34 Ward Ave.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $315,000
Buyer: Sarah A. Sullivan
Seller: Chelsea M. Dann
Date: 12/17/21

19 Westview Ter.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Amount: $342,000
Buyer: Dale A. Canon
Seller: Andrew M. Blefeld
Date: 12/01/21

GRANBY

10 Deerbrook Dr.
Granby, MA 01033
Amount: $398,000
Buyer: Joyce Beaulieu
Seller: Peter M. Brown
Date: 12/03/21

139 New Ludlow Road
Granby, MA 01033
Amount: $277,500
Buyer: Matthew Appleton
Seller: David B. Rafferty
Date: 12/03/21

5 Norman Ave.
Granby, MA 01033
Amount: $230,000
Buyer: Tedeschi Properties LLC
Seller: Joseph Suleski TR
Date: 11/30/21

7 Pleasant St.
Granby, MA 01033
Amount: $385,000
Buyer: Kevin Musiak
Seller: Harvey A. Smith
Date: 11/30/21

HADLEY

4 Phillips Place
Hadley, MA 01035
Amount: $484,000
Buyer: Jun Wang
Seller: Michael A. Stone
Date: 12/17/21

HATFIELD

2 Prospect Court
Hatfield, MA 01038
Amount: $305,000
Buyer: Mill River Ventures Inc.
Seller: HNE LLC
Date: 12/03/21

4 Prospect Court
Hatfield, MA 01038
Amount: $305,000
Buyer: Mill River Ventures Inc.
Seller: HNE LLC
Date: 12/03/21

164 West St.
Hatfield, MA 01088
Amount: $5,770,000
Buyer: SV Property 1 LLC
Seller: Gleason Johndrow Group LLC
Date: 12/20/21

NORTHAMPTON

212 Chestnut St.
Northampton, MA 01062
Amount: $480,000
Buyer: Amelia S. Moore
Seller: Robert A. Aquadro RET
Date: 12/22/21

547 Easthampton Road
Northampton, MA 01060
Amount: $10,815,000
Buyer: NSA Property Holdings LLC
Seller: Meetinghouse Realty
Date: 12/23/21

30 High St.
Northampton, MA 01062
Amount: $508,000
Buyer: Melissa Revell
Seller: Douglas J. Wheat
Date: 12/01/21

46 Hubbard Ave.
Northampton, MA 01060
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Kevin G. Cote
Seller: Helene FT
Date: 11/29/21

Kennedy Road
Northampton, MA 01060
Amount: $300,000
Buyer: Robert S. Fletcher
Seller: Robert A. Borawski
Date: 12/21/21

177-181 Main St.
Northampton, MA 01053
Amount: $2,750,000
Buyer: Ampersand Sprout LLC
Seller: Essex Corp.
Date: 11/30/21

10 Michelman Ave.
Northampton, MA 01060
Amount: $475,000
Buyer: Scher Mass. LLC
Seller: Marlene A. Morin
Date: 11/30/21

299 Pleasant St.
Northampton, MA 01060
Amount: $475,000
Buyer: Scher Mass. LLC
Seller: Marlene A. Morin
Date: 11/30/21

45 Prospect Ave.
Northampton, MA 01060
Amount: $650,000
Buyer: Elizabeth B. Hannigan
Seller: Stacey L. Novack
Date: 11/30/21

49 Prospect St.
Northampton, MA 01063
Amount: $536,000
Buyer: Bianca Sena
Seller: Robert P. Hincks
Date: 12/20/21

13 Rust Ave.
Northampton, MA 01060
Amount: $460,000
Buyer: Kate H. Mcintosh
Seller: David A. Paine
Date: 11/30/21

605 Ryan Road
Northampton, MA 01062
Amount: $370,000
Buyer: Thomas P. Keane
Seller: Margaret N. Broughton
Date: 11/30/21

75 Spruce Hill Ave.
Northampton, MA 01062
Amount: $310,000
Buyer: Marc A. Bobrow
Seller: Michael A. Wishnow
Date: 11/30/21

24 Water St.
Northampton, MA 01053
Amount: $405,000
Buyer: Julia Cafritz
Seller: Joseph W. Garland
Date: 12/20/21

81 Water St.
Northampton, MA 01053
Amount: $325,000
Buyer: Linwood A. Williams
Seller: D. & Jeanette Williams FT
Date: 12/03/21

11 Winter St.
Northampton, MA 01060
Amount: $460,000
Buyer: Raquel Kosovske
Seller: Pamela R. Davidson
Date: 12/23/21

PELHAM

25 Shutesbury Road
Pelham, MA 01002
Amount: $247,000
Buyer: Jade River-King
Seller: Anne M. Hazzard
Date: 12/17/21

SOUTH HADLEY

514 Amherst Road
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $340,000
Buyer: Sean Sentenn
Seller: Russell P. Mariani
Date: 11/30/21

43 Dale St.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $333,000
Buyer: Myra Cardona-Grammo
Seller: Raymond J. MacDonald
Date: 11/29/21

5-7 Ingram St.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $331,240
Buyer: Steven A. Carra
Seller: Alexander C. Thiel
Date: 12/17/21

37 Ludlow Road
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $413,800
Buyer: Zachary T. Odonnell
Seller: NAR Realty LLC
Date: 11/29/21

15 Margaret St.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $200,000
Buyer: Michael McLain
Seller: Mary P. Beaudreau
Date: 12/03/21

6 Midway St.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $242,000
Buyer: Marianne Neal-Joyce
Seller: Stephen Friedman
Date: 11/30/21

6 Paul St.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $325,000
Buyer: Robin L. Brochu
Seller: Derek W. Hogan
Date: 11/30/21

33 Pershing Ave.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $305,000
Buyer: Tyler Turschman
Seller: Kathleen M. Nevins
Date: 12/03/21

69 Pond Road
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $184,000
Buyer: James Defond
Seller: Roger Tetreault RET
Date: 12/20/21

9 San Souci Dr.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $540,000
Buyer: Bruce J. Camrie
Seller: Walter W. Haynes
Date: 12/20/21

24 West Parkview Dr.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Amount: $346,700
Buyer: Nickolas E. Anderson
Seller: Lesley M. Kelly
Date: 12/17/21

SOUTHAMPTON

262 County Road
Southampton, MA 01073
Amount: $279,900
Buyer: Olivia Wakefield-Colly
Seller: Emerald City Rentals LLC
Date: 12/01/21

77 Gunn Road
Southampton, MA 01073
Amount: $195,000
Buyer: New England Remodeling
Seller: Cecelia Ann Mantia TR
Date: 12/17/21

69 High St.
Southampton, MA 01073
Amount: $185,000
Buyer: CTNA Construction LLC
Seller: Parsons, David H., (Estate)
Date: 12/22/21

46 Line St.
Southampton, MA 01073
Amount: $359,900
Buyer: Alex P. Morris
Seller: Gail A. Gehm RET
Date: 11/30/21

133 Pomeroy Meadow Road
Southampton, MA 01073
Amount: $400,000
Buyer: Wendy J. Allen
Seller: Joseph G. Lafreniere
Date: 12/02/21

WARE

95 Beaver Road
Ware, MA 01082
Amount: $375,000
Buyer: Robert Burstein
Seller: Brsuo, Richard A., (Estate)
Date: 12/03/21

13 Clifford Ave.
Ware, MA 01082
Amount: $233,900
Buyer: Corrina G. Stoddart
Seller: Kelly M. Millier
Date: 12/21/21

8 Gareau Ave.
Ware, MA 01082
Amount: $245,000
Buyer: Margaret Haluska
Seller: Vernon M. Flynn
Date: 11/30/21

48 Gould Road
Ware, MA 01082
Amount: $139,900
Buyer: Wendy M. Stearns
Seller: Gail M. Martel
Date: 11/30/21

59-63 Pulaski St.
Ware, MA 01082
Amount: $218,621
Buyer: John Paull
Seller: Luke Paull
Date: 12/03/21

252 West St.
Ware, MA 01082
Amount: $1,550,000
Buyer: 5 Apple Mill Lane LLC
Seller: Frank P. Desantis FT
Date: 12/17/21

WILLIAMSBURG

10 Judd Lane
Williamsburg, MA 01096
Amount: $485,000
Buyer: Nicole C. Farach
Seller: Kyle J. Schwartz
Date: 12/02/21

88 Main St.
Williamsburg, MA 01039
Amount: $290,000
Buyer: David M. Nehring
Seller: Darrin E. Pensivy
Date: 12/17/21

19 Williams St.
Williamsburg, MA 01096
Amount: $205,000
Buyer: Jennifer Brotman
Seller: Steven E. Clark
Date: 12/03/21

WESTHAMPTON

288 Chesterfield Road
Westhampton, MA 01027
Amount: $485,000
Buyer: Daniel Perry
Seller: Cynthia Crooks-Garcia
Date: 12/20/21

20 South Road
Westhampton, MA 01027
Amount: $315,000
Buyer: Nicole Demarey
Seller: David W. Demarey
Date: 12/23/21

172 Southampton Road
Westhampton, MA 01027
Amount: $320,000
Buyer: Playe RET
Seller: Jennifer L. Lennon
Date: 12/03/21

WORTHINGTON

217 Huntington Road
Worthington, MA 01098
Amount: $280,000
Buyer: Mary Ott-Dahill
Seller: Kenneth E. Andersen
Date: 12/21/21

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Mayor John Vieau

Mayor John Vieau says public safety and public health have been priorities of his first term.

 

Fresh off his re-election, Chicopee Mayor John Vieau said the main goal for his second term is the same when he first campaigned for the office two years ago: a focus on public safety.

“A city can have great schools, great trash pickup, and low taxes, but if you don’t feel safe, those other things aren’t so important,” Vieau said.

In the mid-1980s, Chicopee bolstered its police force by hiring a large number of officers. Nearly 40 years later, the city has seen many of those officers retire from the force, while others have left due to COVID-19 concerns to pursue other careers. For Vieau, this created multiple challenges.

“Based on civil-service exams, we hired 10 replacements for our retiring officers,” he said. “Then we ran into a quagmire because at first we couldn’t send them to the police academy because it was closed during the worst of the pandemic.”

As the academy eased its mandates, those officers completed training, and Vieau has hired an additional 15 officers with the intent of bringing the police force back to full strength.

“A city can have great schools, great trash pickup, and low taxes, but if you don’t feel safe, those other things aren’t so important.”

In addition to new officers, Chicopee is encouraging a new style of policing by introducing community policing at a substation on Center Street. With officers on walking beats, they are better able to make connections with people.

“This has been very successful because people are seeing the same officers who are building relationships and rapport with folks in the neighborhood,” the mayor said, adding that he’s looking to eventually bring a substation to Willimansett as well as other parts of the city.

The concern for public safety also extends to the Fire Department, which staffs two ambulances 24/7. Recently the fire chief suggested a pilot program to add a third ambulance for overnight coverage. The suggestion came about due to demand for more coverage during those hours as well as the closing of the private ambulance company that lent assistance when Chicopee ambulances were busy. The success of the pilot program will result in Chicopee adding a new ambulance along with the new fire pumper trucks that had been ordered.

“Just like with the police, we want to make sure our Fire Department has the tools they need to keep themselves and our city safe,” Vieau said.

Part of public safety includes fighting the spread of COVID-19. Chicopee received 15,000 rapid test kits from the state and has been distributing them to residents in low-income areas and at the senior center.

“Our message remains the same — we believe everyone should get vaccinated,” Vieau said.

 

Supporting Businesses

Keeping Chicopee businesses healthy also remains a priority. Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, more than 70 businesses received support. Julie Copoulos, executive director of the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, said her organization helped small-business owners receive more than a half-million dollars in grant money during the pandemic.

“For us, it meant coming back to our core mission of supporting businesses and enhancing the economic climate,” Copoulos said. “Many of the small-business grants went to minority- and women-owned businesses.”

Julie Copoulos is enthusiastic about progress on development at the former Uniroyal and Facemate sites, among others.

The city will also receive $38 million through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Vieau has formed a committee to determine how to use that money in a way that will have a long-term impact for taxpayers in Chicopee.

“For us, it meant coming back to our core mission of supporting businesses and enhancing the economic climate.”

“I have a smart group of people who are looking into the best way to use the ARPA funds,” he said. “We’ve also surveyed residents for their ideas on how to spend the money.”

Vieau wants to proceed with caution on how to use these one-time funds because it would be easy to spend it all in one place.

Chicopee at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1848
Population: 55,560
Area: 23.9 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $16.99
Commercial Tax Rate: $37.39
Median Household Income: $35,672
Median Family Income: $44,136
Type of Government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Westover Air Reserve Base; J. Polep Distribution Services; Callaway Golf Ball Operations; Dielectrics; MicroTek
* Latest information available

“I could target one infrastructure project and use all that money and more,” he said. “For example, the wastewater treatment plant needs upgrades to keep up with current pollution standards, and that project alone will cost around $50 million.”

For bigger projects like this, Vieau is hopeful about Chicopee’s prospects for funding through the recently passed federal infrastructure deal. “I’m going to fight for as much of that infrastructure money as we can get,” he said.

In the meantime, the mayor shared with BusinessWest an important development regarding the former Uniroyal site. After more than a decade of investing millions of dollars in hazardous-waste cleanup at the site, by this spring, the city will begin looking for potential new owners of both the headquarters and an adjacent building on the site.

“We are all looking forward to getting the Uniroyal property back on the tax rolls,” Vieau said. “It’s been a long time coming, and we are super excited about it.”

Right now Michelin, which owns the Uniroyal brand, is completing $1.5 million in cleanup efforts at the site. Once that’s done, the mayor explained, the city will launch a request for proposals in search of prospective buyers of the property.

Because Chicopee represents a good number of manufacturers, Copoulos believes this gives the city an advantage in the years ahead. She noted that economists have pointed out that manufacturing industries have come back to pre-COVID levels while more customer-facing industries continue to have challenges.

“I’m enthusiastic about the development while also reminding myself to be patient because big projects like this take time.”

“As a community with so many manufacturers, this can potentially give us a leg up,” she said. “Supply-chain issues will make domestic manufacturing more of a priority, and that makes me hopeful about prospects for Chicopee.”

The spring will also mark the beginning of construction for the new headquarters of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. After many years in Hatfield, the Food Bank purchased 16.5 acres in the Chicopee River Industrial Park in order to expand its warehouse in a more environmentally friendly building. Selecting Chicopee was a strategic decision on a couple of fronts. The location on Carew and East Main streets gives the Food Bank easy access to major highways, and because the city is in Hampden County, where the issue of hunger and food insecurity are more severe, the organization is in a better position to address the problem.

“The Food Bank location in Chicopee will be at the hub of addressing food insecurity in Western Mass.,” Vieau said.

Dino Facente

Dino Facente says his bakery’s move from Springfield to Chicopee has been a positive one.

Anticipation is also growing for the former Facemate property in Chicopee Center. Final plans and permits are being approved for a 54,000-square-foot, multi-sport facility; a 102-unit residential building; and renovation of the former Baskin building into a 10,000-square-foot restaurant and brewery, where Loophole Brewing will locate.

Both Vieau and Copoulos praised Singing Bridge LLC, a local developer, for leading the project because it shows a commitment to the success of Chicopee. For Copoulos, completion of the project can’t arrive soon enough.

“I’m enthusiastic about the development while also reminding myself to be patient because big projects like this take time,” she said.

Vieau noted in particular the 102 units of housing that will be added to Chicopee Center.

“Many people want to stay in Chicopee but are looking for empty-nest housing,” he said. “Realtors have told me if more condominiums were on the market, they could immediately sell them.”

 

Stops and Starts

The city had a setback recently when the Silverbrook Group said it may not be able to develop 600 apartments in the former Cabotville Mill in the center of town, citing rising construction costs as the main culprit. Vieau remains optimistic that both the Cabotville and Lyman mills will eventually be developed for housing and other uses.

While the next step for the mills is uncertain, that hasn’t stopped Vieau from moving forward with what he called a renaissance of Chicopee’s downtown. The city received a grant to convert the old library building, adjacent to City Hall, into an incubator space for budding entrepreneurs. The first steps involve bringing the building up to compliance with current ADA regulations. Vieau would like to eventually see the cultural council or the chamber take office space there, too.

“I liked the location because it’s not far from the plaza, and I could keep the customers who enjoyed coming in.”

“Entrepreneurs have to start somewhere, so why not start at our old library?” he wondered.

Next door to the old library, the former Rivoli Theatre has just gone up for sale. The mayor called this another space with great potential for the city.

In addition to new entrepreneurs, Chicopee still manages to attract established businesses to locate there. After decades at the Springfield Plaza, Dino Facente had been looking to move the Koffee Kup Bakery. In his words, he “stumbled on” Mickey’s Bike Shop, which had recently closed. The East Street location turned out to be the right spot to move the bakery.

“I liked the location because it’s not far from the plaza, and I could keep the customers who enjoyed coming in,” Facente said. He also credited Chicopee officials at all levels for making the move easy and successful.

“I’ve picked up a lot of business since I’ve been here,” he said. “I’ll be staying here until I retire.”

Features Special Coverage

By Jodi K. Miller, Esq. and Ryan J. Barry, Esq.

Jodi K. Miller

Jodi K. Miller

Ryan J. Barry

Ryan J. Barry

A woman injures her ankle while jogging and goes to the local emergency department for treatment. Despite her injury, she makes sure to go to a hospital in her health plan’s network. Some weeks later, she receives a significant — and unexpected — bill from an emergency department physician. While the hospital was in her health plan’s network, it turns out the treating physician was not. Her health plan paid a portion of the physician’s charges, but she is responsible for the remainder.

This type of ‘balance’ or ‘surprise’ bill has been an ongoing issue when patients receive care from out-of-network providers, some of whom then bill patients the difference between their charges and the health plan’s benefit payment for out-of-network services. These bills are often a surprise because the patient either was not able to choose an in-network provider or was unaware that the provider was out of network until after the services were rendered.

Recently enacted legislation at the federal level and in Massachusetts attempt to address this issue.

A new federal law, the No Surprises Act, went into effect on Jan. 1. The No Surprises Act imposes requirements on healthcare facilities and providers, as well as on health plans, in three key areas: emergency services, non-emergency services provided by out-of-network providers at in-network facilities, and air ambulance services. When those services are rendered, health plans must make a payment to the out-of-network providers, and patients are responsible only for the cost-sharing obligations they would have incurred had the care been provided in network (e.g., co-payments and deductibles).

If the provider does not accept the health plan’s payment, the plan and the provider must attempt to negotiate a reimbursement rate. If negotiations fail, the plan or the provider can initiate a dispute-resolution process to resolve the issue. In these cases, providers may not bill the patient more than the cost-sharing amount, and they are potentially subject to civil monetary penalties of up to $10,000 per violation if they do so.

The No Surprises Act also provides that out-of-network providers of certain scheduled services may not balance-bill patients unless the provider has given advance notice and obtained written consent from the patient. The act sets out specific requirements for the content of the notice, including a good-faith estimate of the costs incurred and a list of in-network options for the patient. This notice and consent process, however, is not available for out-of-network providers of emergency services and other ancillary services (such as anesthesiology, pathology, radiology, and other diagnostic services), or in circumstances where there no in-network provider is available.

Other provisions of the No Surprises Act, including disclosure requirements for both providers and health plans, also aim to increase transparency and consumer protections. Providers are required to publicly disclose and provide to patients a one-page notice about the balance-billing requirements and prohibitions of the No Surprises Act, as well as state law. As discussed below, Massachusetts, too, has recently imposed new disclosure requirements for providers.

Notably, the protections of the No Surprises Act do not apply to emergency services by ground ambulance providers. In those circumstances, out-of-network ground ambulance providers may still bill patients for significant balances, which are invariably a surprise to patients who had no ability to choose an in-plan ambulance provider in an emergency.
Regulations implementing the No Surprises Act have not been without controversy. Medical associations have criticized the regulations implementing the dispute-resolution process as unfairly favoring health plans. Health plans, on the other hand, have lauded the regulations, maintaining that the process will make healthcare more affordable and avoid unnecessary increases in health-insurance premiums.

On Jan. 1, 2021, Massachusetts passed its own law to address balance billing for non-emergency services. That law, which also took effect on Jan. 1, requires healthcare providers to disclose to patients certain information regarding their participation in patients’ insurance plans and patients’ financial obligations for scheduled procedures and services.

Generally, providers are required to tell patients whether they participate in the patient’s insurance plan. If the provider does not participate in the patient’s plan, the provider must disclose the charges and any facility fees for the procedure or service. The provider must also inform the patient they will be responsible for the charges and any facility fees not covered through the patient’s health plan and that they may be able to obtain the procedure or service at a lower cost from an in-network provider.

The law also imposes new requirements on in-network providers to disclose information to patients regarding charges for procedures or services. Providers must also inform patients if their participation in the patient’s health plan changes during a continued course of treatment and make various disclosures when referring a patient to another provider.

There are two consequences if a provider violates the Massachusetts law. First, if an out-of-network provider fails to provide the required notifications and information, the provider cannot bill the patient at all, except for any co-payment, co-insurance, or deductible that would be payable had the patient received the service from an in-network provider. Second, the commissioner of the Department of Public Health is authorized to fine non-compliant providers up to $2,500 per violation.

The recently enacted federal and state laws seek to provide protections to consumers to avoid inadvertent balance bills from out-of-network providers. As these laws go into effect at the start of the new year, providers and health plans should be ready to implement the requirements, and consumers should see fewer surprises in their mailboxes.

Jodi Miller and Ryan Barry are partners in Bulkley Richardson’s healthcare practice.

Opinion

Opinion

By Olivia Bernstein

More than 4 million youth and young adults experience homelessness annually in this country. It is estimated that at least 700,000 are not part of a family or accompanied by a parent or guardian. Risk factors include family conflict, a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity, substance use, and school problems.

MHA is among the organizations that recently launched initiatives to address this issue in Massachusetts, where it is said that, on any given day, nearly 500 unaccompanied young people, ages 18 to 24, experience homelessness.

Federal grant money received through our work with the Continuums of Care in Hampden County and the Three County Continuum of Care administered by Community Action of Pioneer Valley (CAPV), which serves Hampshire, Berkshire, and Franklin counties, is funding two MHA projects over a 24-month period that support the needs of homeless youth.

One provides permanent supportive housing for eight beds annually in Springfield, as well as eight in Greenfield, and includes subsidies so participants pay only one-third of their income for rent.

The other, referred to as a Housing Navigation and Rapid Re-housing program, helps youth and young adults navigate services to obtain housing. The program covers rental and related expenses for up to two years for six beds annually.

These projects represent a more comprehensive approach to youth homelessness that provides ongoing rental and individualized case-management support.

In its pioneering report, “More Than Housing, Give Us Homes,” CAPV called youth homelessness a “crisis in our region,” and through $1.96 million in federal funds, it and its partners received a jump start toward ending the crisis. Guiding principles include prioritizing “evidence-based, low-barrier practices, such as housing first, trauma-informed care, and positive youth development.”

As one of CAPV’s partners, MHA couldn’t agree more. This is a population just starting out in life and in need of support, including subsidized housing that is in short supply in the area; services tailored to individualized needs, which may include access to behavioral-health resources; learning life skills such as budgeting; and pursuing employment or educational opportunities.

These youth and young adults, 18 to 24, have experienced more than anyone should have to in their young lives. Some of them have been out on the street or in shelters or exited foster care at 18 with no place to go. Some of them are in unsafe situations and at risk of harm. They may be living with a family member or couch surfing in an unsafe place, and many we serve identify as LGBTQ+. They may not feel accepted by their family or have family relationships that they don’t feel are safe.

MHA is seeing early success in its work with youth involved in both projects. It is, for some, their first time involved with social services, but all are eager to move into the next stage of their lives, which includes more independence and access to housing. Some are continuing a college education, others are seeking employment in their chosen field, and some are in recovery programs.

These young people have shown they are resilient and, like all of us, deserving of a place to call home. We see homelessness all over this country, but it is a huge systemic injustice that anyone should have to live out on the street.

 

Olivia Bernstein is clinical director of Homeless Services at MHA.

Cannabis Cover Story

Rolling Along

Matt Yee and Mark Cutting of Enlite in Northampton

Matt Yee and Mark Cutting of Enlite in Northampton

Massachusetts had already legalized medical marijuana when voters were faced with another question in late 2016: whether to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The vote wasn’t close, sailing through on talk of jobs, tax revenue, and, well, people wanting to light up legally. Reality doesn’t always live up to promise, but in this case, it has. Yes, the industry is still facing growing pains, particularly when it comes to creating a level playing field for entrepreneurs. But when it comes to this new industry’s impact on jobs, real-estate investment, municipal tax revenue, and more, these are truly high times.

 

David Narkewicz wasn’t just a supporter of cannabis coming to Northampton. He was the first customer.

That was three years ago, when NETA opened on Conz Street and became the state’s very first dispensary for legal, recreational cannabis. Today, with cannabis businesses proliferating in the city and across Massachusetts, the outgoing mayor believes his initial enthusiasm was justified.

“We saw the experience of other states, and a lot of the Massachusetts law, when they were trying to put together the regulatory framework, was based on looking at laws in other states,” Narkewicz said. “First and foremost, I supported legalization just as a public-policy meaure, but I also saw an opportunity for investment in the community.”

Elaborating, he said the city is known as a destination with a vibrant retail sector, arts and culture establishments, and plenty of restaurants and bars. “So my sense, and my hope, was that this would be a new investment in the community and a new source of jobs and revenue, and another reason to come to Northampton. I think we took a pretty forward-looking approach to this.”

Today, Northampton is home to eight retail dispensaries for adult-use cannabis, seven manufacturers, four cultivation facilities, and a testing lab. Those numbers grow seemingly by the month.

Meanwhile, three years of excise taxes on adult-use cannabis have brought in more than $4.3 million. “That helps us continue funding schools, police, fire, DPW, all the services we provide as a city.”

Mark Cutting and Matt Yee certainly saw potential, not only in the state’s legalization of cannabis, but Northampton’s embrace of it. Just last week, they opened the city’s eighth adult-use dispensary, Enlite, just off the Coolidge Bridge rotary — and they have a long-term vision for it based on the idea that this is a still-evolving industry.

“Our getting into cannabis was really just another attempt on our part to find jobs that people can get into at the entry level, or get a better job. It’s imperative that we find people who are unemployed, underemployed, those with limited education, limited work history, and get them into employment and on a career track.”

“We thought that, with our background in business and the Yee family’s background in restaurants and entertainment, there may be potential beyond even the retail space,” Cutting said. “There may be opportunities to have some type of dining or some type of entertainment along with cannabis partaking at some point in time — though that’s not legal here yet.”

Yee noted that the sheer number of cannabis businesses in Massachusetts — almost 190 and counting, not just in retail, but in cultivation, manufacturing, and wholesaling — is making it easier for all players to succeed, because of the cross-pollination. It’s why Enlite has adopted the model of many area dispensaries of partnering with boutique makers of cannabis products.

“Early on, it was difficult because [product] availability was so low, you had to be vertically integrated to supply yourself,” he noted. “But Western Mass. has been really kind to small-scale producers, and we’re really happy to showcase them here at this location.”

Cutting added that “a lot of the multi-state operators don’t necessarily like companies like that to sit on their shelves. But we’re basically an open market for some of these producers to share shelf space and advertise their product here locally.”

With each business open, total sales in Massachusetts increase — crossing the $2 billion mark, in fact, earlier this month, a number even proponents might not have expected so soon after voters approved legalizing recreational cannabis in November 2016, four years after giving a similar go-ahead to medical marijuana.

Jeff Hayden

Jeff Hayden says cannabis has created fertile ground for hundreds of new jobs in Holyoke — and an impressive diversity of them.

And those businesses mean jobs, said Jeffrey Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services at Holyoke Community College (HCC).

“We’ve experienced high levels of unemployment during the pandemic; both Springfield and Holyoke unemployment have been ahead of the federal and state average. In both communities, we see a strong need to connect people to the workforce,” Hayden told BusinessWest.

That’s one reason HCC became a lead partner in the creation of the Cannabis Career Center in late 2019. If HCC exists to give people the skills they need to get into jobs, he reasoned, then the potential of cannabis couldn’t be ignored — especially in a city rivaled only, perhaps, by Northampton in its full-on embrace of this new industry.

“Our getting into cannabis was really just another attempt on our part to find jobs that people can get into at the entry level, or get a better job,” he explained. “It’s imperative that we find people who are unemployed, underemployed, those with limited education, limited work history, and get them into employment and on a career track.”

But cannabis is changing Holyoke in other ways, too, notably in its canal district, where long-neglected mill buildings are springing to life with cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and sales.

David Narkewicz

David Narkewicz

“We put in place zoning regulations that were not onerous; we’re essentially allowing retail cannabis anywhere we allowed retail, and it was generally the same for manufacturing.”

“The private investment in Holyoke as a result of this industry coming to Massachusetts has been extremely significant,” Hayden said. “Cannabis companies are buying properties that have been long underutilized — and it’s not like acquiring a building and leaving it as is; they’re investing significant dollars to improve it and create new jobs in the city, literally hundreds of jobs already. And, obviously, the tax revenue generated for the city is significant. This is a growing industry in Massachusetts.”

That’s true — literally and figuratively. Five years after that critical vote and three years after businesses started opening, cannabis has proven to be a hardy economic driver, one that not only survived the pandemic, but thrived throughout it. And no one really knows what the ceiling may be.

 

Ironing Out the Issues

Not everything has been smooth in what is becoming a hyper-competitive market. Enlite is the state’s first Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) applicant to open its doors, and Yee concedes that the Cannabis Control Commission’s stated commitment to MBE and social-equity opportunities — with the goal of helping communities and demographics negatively impacted by the war on drugs to access entrepreneurship opportunities in cannabis — has met with inconsistent results.

“It’s a really big topic in the industry. We’ve had a lot of commissioners change out in the last year or so, and a lot of people in the program saw CCC failing them as far as getting those applicants to the finish line,” Yee explained. “It’s a combination of things: operators with not a lot of resources can be an issue. Obviously you’ve got your multi-state operators with a million dollars allocated to their lawyers and legal teams, so they’re able to have the resources to get them pushed through a little bit faster. Those are big issues.”

Holyoke’s mill district

Holyoke’s mill district has become a promising location for cannabis cultivation for companies like GTI.

But things are changing, he added, with new commissioners “really focusing on those applicants and assisting them, figuring out where the pain points are and getting them to the finish line and open. We’ve been seeing some traction on that.”

The process can be a tricky one (see related story on page 22).

“The biggest issue — because it’s not federally legal — is access to capital,” Cutting said. “It’s a journey getting through the CCC, and if you do make a mistake and don’t dot your I’s and cross your T’s, it gets rejected, and you have to start all over again, and you don’t necessarily go back to the same queue you were in — you may go to the bottom of the pile. And it can be a long, painful process to get back to the top of the pile. And God forbid you make a mistake again.”

It helped, he said, to deal with a city that didn’t limit the number of application approvals. “We sat down with the mayor, and it was the most seamless, easiest process you can ever imagine, versus other cities that either opted out, or there’s a lottery, or they really capped the number of cultivators or retailers they’re allowing.”

In Narkewicz’s eyes, Northampton’s voters approved cannabis — first medical, then recreational — at a much higher percentage than the state average, and the city’s leaders took their cue from that.

“We put in place zoning regulations that were not onerous; we’re essentially allowing retail cannabis anywhere we allowed retail, and it was generally the same for manufacturing,” the mayor said. “And I think we saw a pretty strong response — lots of people wanting to locate here in Northampton.”

He does hear questions from people wondering if the market is too saturated, and has a quick response. “Northampton has 17 liquor stores. I have yet to hear anyone complain that we have too many liquor stores. To me, this is a legal industry, and it’s the free market, which is why I opposed caps on liquor licenses for years, because they hold back economic development in a city like Northampton and only drive up the cost of those licenses and make it harder for entrepreneurs.

“There’s opportunity to get in on the ground floor and also opportunity to grow in these occupations. It’s not like we’ve got 100 people in Holyoke who are cultivators, or 50 people who have strong customer-service experience in retail dispensaries. No one has 10 years of experience in this area. So in Massachusetts, for the job seeker, it’s all about what they bring to the occupation.”

“In an industry like cannabis, which is trying to focus on equity and economic empowerment, particularly for populations that were disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis and the war on drugs,” he went on, “putting up barriers like that defeats the purpose and works against the goals of this new industry.”

Narkewicz also noted that each new business may be 20 or 25 new local jobs as well.

In Holyoke, cannabis means hundreds of new jobs in a short period of time. And the variety of jobs is appealing to us,” Hayden added, noting that someone with strong customer-service skills could become an effective patient advocate, while someone with an agricultural background could work in cultivation, and someone with a knack for science could work in extraction and infusion.

The appealing thing, he noted, is that companies are looking for workers with broad skills who just need, and want, to be trained in the intricacies of this field and their specific roles.

“There’s opportunity to get in on the ground floor and also opportunity to grow in these occupations,” Hayden said. “It’s not like we’ve got 100 people in Holyoke who are cultivators, or 50 people who have strong customer-service experience in retail dispensaries. No one has 10 years of experience in this area. So in Massachusetts, for the job seeker, it’s all about what they bring to the occupation.”

Kathleen Proper, chief Human Resources officer at Canna Provisions in Holyoke, said as much at a panel discussion that preceded a recent Cannabis Career Fair at HCC, titled “Cultivating an Industry.”

“Our biggest thing is providing outstanding customer service,” she noted. “So if you’ve got experience doing customer service, whether you’ve worked retail, worked in a restaurant, waited tables, tended bar, all of those skills work out really well. Even though cannabis retail is a different animal than other retail … we tend to do really well with people who have waited tables or tended bar.”

 

Word on the Street

Yee isn’t worried about the ninth dispensary that will open in Northampton, or the 10th or 11th. Like Narkewicz, he believes the legal cannabis industry is thriving, with the saturation point well in the distance.

“I always say our biggest competitor is the black market. Many consumers are still shopping on the black market because the pricing is far better,” he said, noting that an eighth-ounce of cannabis may cost $50 in a store and $30 on the street, with no tax.

“A lot of folks who are stuck in their ways, they know the brands they like on that market, they know the cultivators they want to work with … the black market is still very, very strong,” he went on. “As we see more interesting products hit the shelves here at a commercial dispensary and prices begin to drop — and we are seeing a little more of that — we’ll see folks moving over from the black market to the commercial market. So there’s still a massive untapped customer base out there.”

Cutting agreed that, as the legal cannabis industry matures and deepens, the sheer volume of product will lower prices, and that — as well as the aesthetic and educational experience that many cannabis shops tout — will draw more people in.

“Additionally, all the product on our shelves has been tested; you know what’s in the product. On the black market, you don’t have test results and don’t know what metals or pesticides or mold or yeast are in their product. They don’t have to test — they just roll and sell their product from whatever location they’re growing in.

“Here, it’s a safe, friendly environment,” Cutting went on. “You’re not looking over your shoulder buying something off the black market. And I think that market will eventually snuff itself out. Not entirely, but I think, over time, you’ll see it. The question some will ask is, ‘hey, do I want to be safe, or roll with this and take the risk of an untested product?’ I think most people will want to be on the safe side.”

As for public safety, Narkewicz said concerns from cannabis opponents — regarding surging crime and diversion problems — simply haven’t come to pass. And looking back, he’s proud to have been the first customer in the city’s newest growth industry.

“Obviously, in the early going, we had a little traffic crunch and parking crunch, but I don’t know many mayors worried about too many people wanting to visit their city,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s a good problem to have.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Health Care

Shot in the Arm

Following updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Baker-Polito administration has outlined how families in Massachusetts can access Pfizer COVID-19 pediatric vaccines for children ages 5 to 11.

Children will be able to receive the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine from more than 500 locations, including retail pharmacies, primary-care practices, regional collaboratives, local boards of health, community health centers, hospital systems, state-supported vaccination sites, and mobile clinics. Some appointments are available now for booking, with additional locations and appointments expected to come online in the coming days.

“Pediatricians and parents should be very excited about the approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11,” said Dr. John O’Reilly, chief of General Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “Some parents may be reluctant to have their children in this age group vaccinated, but if a day of soreness can get your child safely back to playing with friends and visiting relatives, then the benefits clearly outweigh the discomfort.”

As a pediatrician, O’Reilly said he had been hoping for this approval for months.

“Some parents may be reluctant to have their children in this age group vaccinated, but if a day of soreness can get your child safely back to playing with friends and visiting relatives, then the benefits clearly outweigh the discomfort.”

“I was very glad that the FDA took the time to be sure that the vaccine was safe and effective for children in this age group before it was approved,” he added. “Clinical trials of over 3,000 children who received the vaccine found it produced protective levels of antibodies with only mild reactions to the shot, such as pain at the injection site, fatigue, and headache.”

He understands that some parents might have safety concerns, but noted that much misinformation has been spread about the development of the mRNA vaccines, especially considering how fast the COVID vaccines were rolled out. The truth, he noted, is that scientists have been working on the development of mRNA vaccines for decades. The basic scientific advances in gene sequencing and gene modeling allowed companies to quickly adapt mRNA technology to the COVID-19 virus.

“Vaccine development is very expensive, and companies developing other vaccines would be slower in developing them because of the cost,” he explained. “Operation Warp Speed gave companies billions of dollars in support and guaranteed purchases, allowing companies to use those funds to quickly ramp up clinical trials and manufacturing. The trials themselves followed the highest standards of research, and the FDA has reviewed all of the trial data to be sure that the COVID- 19 vaccines are safe and effective.”

O’Reilly noted that children infected with COVID-19 tend to experience mild symptoms, but for some, it can be more serious. Since the pandemic began, about 1.9 million children ages 5 to 11 have been infected, about 9% of all U.S. cases. More than 8,300 in this age group have been hospitalized, with about one-third requiring ICU care, and 94 have died, according to federal data. Children ages 5 to 11 who are black, Native American, or Hispanic are three times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID than white children.

Also, several thousand children infected with the virus have developed severe cases of inflammation throughout their bodies known as multi-system inflammatory syndrome, while others are reporting long COVID symptoms similar to adults, such as headache, cough, fatigue, and more.

“Parents who vaccinate their children not only protect them, but they also protect everyone their children come in contact with,” O’Reilly said. “In school, it protects vulnerable classmates and adult staff whose medical conditions put them at risk for severe COVID-19. It also protects family members and makes visiting at-risk family members at the holidays safer for everyone. Vaccinating our kids also helps to protect our communities. The higher our community immunization rates, the lower the risk of COVID-19 rapidly spreading through our at-risk community members.”

Parents who prefer to have their child vaccinated by their primary-care provider should call their provider’s office directly. Others may visit the VaxFinder tool at vaxfinder.mass.gov for a full list of hundreds of available locations. Residents will be able to narrow results to search for locations that are offering the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, with some appointments available now for booking. Additional appointments will be available online in the coming days. Many locations will be booking appointments out weeks in advance.

“Parents who vaccinate their children not only protect them, but they also protect everyone their children come in contact with.”

For individuals who are unable to use VaxFinder, or have difficulty accessing the internet, the COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Line (Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) is available by calling 211. The COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Line is available in English and Spanish and has translators available in approximately 100 additional languages.

All state-supported vaccination clinics will offer low-sensory vaccinations for children with disabilities.

Additionally, the administration has partnered with several non-traditional, youth-friendly locations for pediatric vaccination clinics, including the Discovery Museum in Acton, the Museum of Science in Boston, the Springfield Museums, and the EcoTarium in Worcester. Appointments for these clinics are available now on the VaxFinder tool. Visit www.mass.gov/covidvaccinekids for more information.

While infection rates have been trending down from an early-fall spike, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 1,586 new, confirmed COVID cases in the state on Nov. 4, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to more than 800,000. Health officials said the total number of confirmed cases in the state, as of that date, was 801,567.

The DPH also reported 23 additional COVID deaths in the state, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic to 18,671. As of Nov. 4, there were 509 people hospitalized for a coronavirus-related illness, including 147 in intensive care.

State health officials say getting vaccinated remains the most important thing individuals can do to protect themselves, their families, and their community. Individuals do not need an ID or health insurance to access a vaccine and do not need to show a vaccine card when getting a vaccine.

Massachusetts leads the nation in vaccine administration, including adolescent vaccination, with more than 80% of youth ages 12-17 having received at least one dose. More than 4.7 million individuals in the Bay State are fully vaccinated, with more than 92% of all adults having at least one dose.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for parents to make the right decision to vaccinate their children,” O’Reilly said. “It can be life-saving for your child and further protect those in your household as well as the community from this terrible disease that spares no one. I am looking forward to a holiday season when kids are fully vaccinated and we can all gather with friends and family to celebrate being together without fear of COVID.” u

Cannabis Special Coverage

Growing Concerns

Meg Sanders says the state’s onerous regulatory hurdles have made the cannabis space an unfair playing field

Meg Sanders says the state’s onerous regulatory hurdles have made the cannabis space an unfair playing field, especially for smaller shops and social-equity applicants.

Everyone has seen the dispensaries and other cannabis businesses sprouting up in communities across Massachusetts — and the long lines of customers often stretching out the door. And they might think this business is easy money. But that’s far from the truth, thanks to an onerous tax situation, the illegal nature of the product on the federal level making it tough to enlist financial and other partners, and the slow march from stigma to acceptance of this still-new industry. All of that, however, could be changing, although it will take federal action to loosen some of those shackles.

Meg Sanders is a cannabis-industry veteran, most notably in Colorado, the nation’s first regulated market for legal cannabis. So she’s no stranger to the growing pains the industry is now dealing with in Massachusetts.

But as a local business owner — as CEO of Canna Provisions in Holyoke and Lee — she’s frustrated by them, too.

“We’re limited on what we can do with advertising, and the amount of product we can sell to a customer at a time,” she said, citing just two examples of regulations set forth by the state’s Cannabis Control Commission (CCC).

“The whole idea was to regulate cannabis like we regulate alcohol, and we’re not doing that. Actually, they’re going way above and way over the top, and I don’t think that’s helpful to the industry. I don’t think it’s helpful to individual businesses, and it’s definitely, in my opinion, not in the spirit of the CCC, which is supposed to promote social-equity and economic-empowerment applicants. But the bar for entry is really high, and the bar to stay out of trouble with the CCC is really high.”

“The whole idea was to regulate cannabis like we regulate alcohol, and we’re not doing that. Actually, they’re going way above and way over the top, and I don’t think that’s helpful to the industry.”

In other words, despite the number of cannabis businesses currently operating across Massachusetts — 267 and rising every week — this is a tough field to enter and a tougher one to succeed at, Sanders told BusinessWest.

“I think of people who are bootstrapping, mom-and-pop stores, teams that are working with a limited amount of cash, and it’s not a level playing field,” she went on. “And a lot of things we worry about in this industry are things that really do not matter. The amount of money this industry spends on packaging alone, that just goes in a landfill, is awful, and it’s driven by these rules and regs — it has to be childproof, it’s got to have 57 warning labels on it. I feel ethically horrible about the mounds of packaging in landfills. And the burden it puts on mom-and-pop manufacturers who are trying to make a really cool chocolate bar and the expense that’s going into that packaging … it’s really tricky.”

It doesn’t help, she added, that many state regulations can be challenging to interpret, mainly because the CCC is going through the same growing pains businesses are.

Scott Foster says federal decriminalization of cannabis has gained momentum

Scott Foster says federal decriminalization of cannabis has gained momentum, but the timeline is still uncertain.

“I’ve seen this in other states — the agency tasked with regulating and monitoring the industry has a very steep learning curve,” Sanders said. “One investigator will tell you one thing, and another investigator will tell you another thing. So they’re not always on the same page for specific rules.”

Many of those regulations address diversion of product, she noted. “We’ve spent millions of dollars building this business. The last thing we’re going to do is flush it down the toilet trying to sneak a pound out the back door. It’s just absurd.”

So are onerous background checks to get into the industry, keeping out some of the individuals — from communities that have been inordinately affected by the Drug War — who should be able to enter and prosper, she added. “Regulators and business owners should be partners to build a better business and correct things that need correcting, understanding everyone is doing their best.”

Those challenges are strictly state-level, but others on the federal level are just as burdensome, and boil down to the fact that the U.S. government still classifies cannabis as an illegal controlled substance. That means most banks and credit unions have avoided doing business with cannabis operators, though that’s slowly changing.

“In the early days, there weren’t a lot of professionals willing to take the career risk to enter the industry, so it was hard to find talent to come in and help grow the business. But, again, you’re starting to see that shift as more states legalize and you see the social proofs play out.”

“The federal illegality is a big challenge, and it doesn’t stop with the banking issue,” said Patrick Gottschlicht, chief operating officer of Insa. “That’s been extremely detrimental to us, but that carries across to other companies that we can work with — payroll processors, ERP [enterprise resource planning] companies, any big national or international software companies, accounting firms, security vendors … they can’t work with us because of that federal illegality.”

That has started to shift as more professional services and banks are opening up to this industry, though many still won’t, and many that do are startups themselves, with less at stake, said Peter Gallagher, Insa’s CEO.

“There’s no playbook for this industry,” he added. “There’s been a lot of trial and error to get to where we are. In the early days, there weren’t a lot of professionals willing to take the career risk to enter the industry, so it was hard to find talent to come in and help grow the business. But, again, you’re starting to see that shift as more states legalize and you see the social proofs play out. People’s friends are getting into it, talking positively about it, and they see the success of the industry, and you’re seeing more willingness to work with cannabis.”

Some bills have been introduced in Washington to, if not legalize cannabis, at least decriminalize it.

“Those bills would make it easier for us, and also de-risk the industry around the margins for a lot of partners,” Gallagher said. “The trend is definitely there, but in what time frame will that happen? From our perspective, it’s been happening a lot faster than we ever expected. When we got into this, we thought the legal conversation would take 20 or 30 years to play out.”

 

Taking No Credit

Sanders is hopeful, too. “At the federal level, we have big challenges. We can’t even take credit cards. That’s so silly. We can take a debit card and cash, and that’s it. That alone would be a really big help.”

Scott Foster, a partner at Bulkley Richardson and one of the attorneys in that firm’s cannabis practice group, believes sentiment is growing that Congress will act sooner rather than later on some degree of allowing banks into the cannabis space or remove the threat of federal enforcement against entities that partner with cannabis operators.

“That will help create some stability. And the biggest thing it’ll do is allow people to use credit cards at the facilities; it’s largely cash right now. If Congress changes that law, boom — you can use your Visa card, you can use your Mastercard. And the reason that you can’t now is not because Visa and Mastercard have a particular ethical or moral problem with it — they’ve just got a legal problem.”

Patrick Gottschlicht (left) and Peter Gallagher say cannabis is a much more challenging business than it seems — but it’s a rewarding one.

Patrick Gottschlicht (left) and Peter Gallagher say cannabis is a much more challenging business than it seems — but it’s a rewarding one.

Some federal bills have bipartisan support, he added, “but Congress has a lot of other things going on.” Still, with almost 40 states and territories having legalized medical cannabis and more than 20 giving the OK to adult-use cannabis, “I think the tide is definitely turning on this; it’s just a matter of how far it goes, and how quickly.”

Even without a change in the law, Foster explained, “the banking situation is getting better. We’re seeing some banks and some credit unions more willing to lend into the cannabis space now — much more than a couple years ago. They’re becoming more comfortable with lending for real-estate purposes — not for buying things, necessarily, but for buildout and for creating a space, including cultivation spaces. So that’s a change. A very small change, but the fact that it’s happening at all is a big deal.”

The other federal law cannabis operators want to see changed is Internal Revenue Code Section 280E, which severely limits tax deductions for business that deal in controlled substances prohibited by federal law. In short, businesses can deduct the cost of goods sold, but are not allowed any other deductions or credits on their return, including for wages.

“The taxes are crushing — you can’t deduct wages, rent, or other ordinary deductions. Most of these companies are looking at an effective tax rate of 70% to 90% in that, of their profit at the end of the day, 70% of it goes to pay federal taxes.”

“The taxes are crushing — you can’t deduct wages, rent, or other ordinary deductions,” Foster said. “Most of these companies are looking at an effective tax rate of 70% to 90% in that, of their profit at the end of the day, 70% of it goes to pay federal taxes. And this is after they pay state and local taxes. So the federal government is making a lot of tax money off of cannabis companies across the U.S.

“It’s been challenged multiple times in multiple states,” he went on, “and every tax court and every appellate court has said, ‘Congress can change it, but they were unequivocal in what they said.’ It’s a completely constitutionally valid statute.”

Decriminalizing cannabis federally would neuter the impact of 280E on the industry, which would be massive news for cannabis businesses that are already paying higher-than-average state taxes, while their host communities get a cut of between 3% and 6% as well.

But decriminalization would open many other doors as well, like broadening the market for insuring these businesses.

“There’s a risk that your insurance company could, almost at any point, say, ‘well, what you’re doing is a violation of federal law; therefore, we’re not going to insure you,’” Foster said. “The companies are getting insurance — they’re required to get insurance by the CCC — but they’re not the traditional companies; they’re not the Allstates or the companies you see advertising. They’re smaller, specialty, boutique insurance companies that have figured out it’s worth the risk to them to get into that space because the premiums are appreciably higher than they would be for a comparable business.”

So, again, the lack of federal legislation to decriminalize cannabis is increasing the cost of doing business, he went on. “If that happened, I think the cost of insurance would go down because you’d have more competition overnight in the space.”

Another barrier to continued growth that is slowly coming down is stigma surrounding the products themselves.

“For decades, it was drilled into people’s heads that this was a bad thing,” Gallagher said. “It’s going to take time to change that, and the most powerful tool is social proof and people seeing their friends and relatives using it to either treat various ailments or enhance their lifestyle; they see they’re successful, healthy individuals, and this is just a way to improve their lives. But I think it’s going to take time.”

For example, Gottschlicht added, “we have a bedtime edible to help you sleep, and we’ve seen people who were non-cannabis users start using that and come into the space because of that. It’s incredible how many people have gotten off standard pharmaceuticals and gone to half a gummy every night. The feedback has been, ‘it doesn’t make me groggy; it doesn’t give me the melatonin hangover I’ve gotten in the past. I feel normal in the morning, and it helps me sleep through the night.’”

Hearing those testimonies from friends and family is often how the stigma barrier falls for people who have been nervous about stopping by, he noted. “They think, ‘hey, there’s some good benefit to this.’ Or as an alternative to opioids after surgery — we’ve had a lot of people come in who just don’t want to take opioids for pain after surgery; they want to try cannabis because it’s not as addictive as some of the opioids out there.”

Sanders agreed. “I personally think the biggest move you can make to convert non-cannabis users to cannabis is this one-on-one experience, people telling people, or people coming in and finding relief from something — maybe sleep issues or aches and pains. And when you convert one person, they tell someone, and then they tell someone.”

 

Business Is Blooming

It’s been fulfilling to see the industry grow, Foster said — not to mention a boost to his own professional practice.

“The big uncertainty now is what consolidation in this industry is going to look like, and when is it going to happen. Everyone knows big players are going to come in and buy up companies and create brands that stretch across the nation; it’s already occurring, though not a lot … yet.”

But as more investors become comfortable with industry — there’s that idea of breaking through stigma again — that consolidation will happen, he went on. Drawing on the beer industry, he noted there’s no Anheuser-Busch in cannabis yet — it’s all microbreweries, so to speak. But even when large, national companies spread across the space, there will always be room for the boutique experience, for small companies that continue to research and promote the effects of new and different strains.

Research that is not currently happening to the degree it could because much research, especially clinical research at universities, is dependent on … wait for it … federal funding.

But once that research takes off and the cannabis industry escapes the shackles of federal illegality — a development that industry players generally agree will happen at some point — the products will continue to become more legitimized in the public eye, and the potential customer base will expand.

“People are asking, is the industry tapped out? No, I’m not seeing that,” Foster said. “Every business that opens up has a line out the door, and every facility that opens up can sell everything it makes. So, we have not reached a point of saturation by any means.”

That ever-expanding competition is another challenge, Sanders said, but one that should benefit all players because it further legitimizes the products in more people’s minds. But it also means individual businesses need to work harder to stand out. Canna does that with a strong focus on the individual experience and locally sourced products — including its own brand, Smash — with interesting, local stories behind them.

“There’s more good people than not in this space, and we owe it to consumers who are cannabis-curious to put our best foot forward and make sure they have as much information about our products as possible, so they don’t have any unexpected reactions,” she said. “Our commitment is to great products we can tell a story about, that we understand and respect and can get behind and provide the best experience we can possibly provide, and educate our customers.”

Insa, which has a production facility in Easthampton and four dispensaries across the region, including a flagship store in Springfield, has also expanded nationally, with a production facility in Pennsylvania selling to about 100 dispensaries and a Florida license to build a production site and medical dispensaries. And Gallagher embraces the growing competition in all those regions.

“The way we look at it, this is a much bigger industry than exists today,” he said. “If we all do a good job and operate responsibly and create good quality products, it will encourage more people to enter the industry and experiment and try it, and this will get much, much bigger. A rising tide lifts all boats, and as long as you have good, responsible players in the market, it’s going to be a benefit to everyone.”

Still, he added, “it’s a tough business. One of the common misperceptions is, people think it’s going to be easy. But it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do. You have to be on it every day. And when you’re dealing with any biological product, the number of variables to control are immense. So it’s extremely challenging.

“But it’s been great,” he added. “The relationships we’ve built along the way have been fantastic. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Except, of course, for some pesky federal laws.

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Bob Boilard says infrastructure improvements, including a broadband plan for the town, have moved forward during the pandemic.

Bob Boilard says infrastructure improvements, including a broadband plan for the town, have moved forward during the pandemic.

 

Robert Boilard credits people in town working together as the reason Wilbraham has come through the pandemic so far with minimal impact on the community.

“We incorporated our protocols early and have been very fortunate that most people have remained safe from COVID,” said Boilard, who chairs the Wilbraham Board of Selectmen.

Officials from the Police and Fire departments, as well as the town’s public-health nurse, provide weekly updates to the selectmen of the number of positive cases, illnesses, and hospitalizations so they can continue to closely monitor the community’s health.

Boilard pointed to a new DPW garage and a storage facility for the Parks and Recreation department as two projects the town was able to complete during the pandemic. As a community that has received funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the board is hoping to use the money on water-infrastructure projects and expanding broadband internet.

“We have a master plan to install broadband throughout Wilbraham,” Boilard said. “This is a project that will be ongoing for the next few years.”

Another big project on the horizon involves a new senior center. On Oct. 18, Wilbraham will hold a special town meeting to discuss building the facility behind Town Hall. Paula Dubord, the town’s director of Elder Affairs, said she and others have led a 10-year effort for a senior center that can better accommodate the community’s growing senior population.

“Our current location is in a lovely building, but the space is only 3,840 square feet,” Dubord said. “With more than 4,000 seniors in town, it’s just too small.”

The drive for a new senior center began in 2012 with a study committee, which concluded the existing senior center did not meet the town’s needs, even at that time. Next, a feasibility committee was formed and brought in an architect to do a deep dive on what made sense for a new facility. After seven years and consideration of nearly 40 different sites in Wilbraham, the feasibility study recommended building a new structure on municipally owned land behind Town Hall. October’s town meeting will give residents a chance to vote on that recommendation.

“Our current location is in a lovely building, but the space is only 3,840 square feet. With more than 4,000 seniors in town, it’s just too small.”

There were some in town who pushed for locating the new senior center in an available former school. Dubord said the senior center has been located in old schools twice before, and it’s an approach that just doesn’t work.

“The experts who took part in the feasibility study told us a new building was a more practical way to meet the current and future needs for Wilbraham residents,” he said.

 

Booming Population

When the study committee began its work in 2012, members looked at the potential growth in the over-60 population in Wilbraham.

“We projected that, by 2025, nearly 40% of our town — with a population of nearly 15,000 — will be considered a senior,” Dubord said. “We are very close to that projection right now.”

As Wilbraham residents age, she added, many of them say they prefer to stay in their own home or move to one of the 55+ communities in town.

In its current location, more than 100 residents visit the senior center every day. Dubord emphasized that the real goal of the center is to keep people socially connected. Last March, when the pandemic forced the center to shut down, she and her staff quickly found new ways to stay connected with local seniors.

“We immediately started grocery shopping for people and picking up essential items like masks and toilet paper — both of which were hard to get in the beginning — as well as their prescription medicines,” she said.

The staff at the center put their full focus on meeting the needs of Wilbraham seniors, she added. “Because everyone was isolated, we did lots of phone check-ins with people to keep them engaged.”

In the spring, when vaccines first became available for people 65 and older, Dubord and her staff helped seniors sign up online to receive their shots when the state made them available at the nearby Eastfield Mall in Springfield.

“The registration process was not easy for seniors to complete, so we became like vaccination headquarters,” she said. “Because we had done a number of them, our staff was able to quickly get people registered for their shot.”

Dubord estimates they helped nearly 400 residents sign up for the initial vaccine offering. Later, the senior center hosted its own vaccine clinic run by staff from the Public Health and Fire departments.

Grace Barone says Wilbraham businesses are looking forward

Grace Barone says Wilbraham businesses are looking forward to getting back to some semblance of normalcy.

“Through all those efforts, we are confident that everyone who wanted to get a shot was able to get one,” she said.

Like many senior centers in the area, Wilbraham also offed a grab-and-go lunch program when it could not open the center for meals. “The real plus to the grab-and-go was it introduced us to people we’ve never seen before at the senior center,” Dubord said.

Happy to open the doors at the senior center almost three months ago, she said having someplace to go gives people a purpose and plays a key role in our health as we age.

“Many of our seniors live alone, so the center is important because it gives them access to vital community services and for the social connections they make,” she noted. Indeed, according to a Harvard Health study, the negative health risks of social isolation are comparable to smoking and obesity, increasing mortality risk by up to 30%.

Wilbraham at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1763
Population: 14,868
Area: 22.4 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $22.96
Commercial Tax Rate: $22.96
Median Household Income: $65,014
Median Family Income: $73,825
Type of government: Board of Selectmen, Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Wilbraham Medical Center; Friendly Ice Cream Corp.; Big Y; Home Depot; Wilbraham & Monson Academy
*Latest information available

While a new senior center can address the needs of Wilbraham’s growing elder population, Dubord said the plan is for the new building to also house services for veterans in town.

“There are benefits for the new center beyond seniors,” she explained. “The larger space can be used by Boy and Girl Scouts, as well as women’s groups or other organizations in town.”

 

Moving Forward

Gradual easing of COVID-19 mandates is also good news for Wilbraham businesses. Grace Barone, executive director of East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce, noted that, like everyone else, Wilbraham businesses are looking forward to something resembling business as usual once again.

She pointed to a recent annual meeting of the chamber which more than 130 members attended in person while others joined remotely as an example of gradually getting back to attending events while still staying safe.

“The chamber’s golf tournament at the end of September is another way to get back to networking and taking advantage of the outdoors while we can,” she added.

New to her role at the chamber, Barone has been in the job since late June after working with the Keystone Commons retirement community in Ludlow for the last five years.

“I’m hoping to take what we’ve learned from the past 18 months to help our businesses succeed going forward,” she said. “It’s going to take some time, but we can get there together.”

Boilard shares Barone’s optimism about the future.

“It’s awesome to see how well everyone works together,” he said. “From boards to community groups, they are all focused on making Wilbraham a better place to live.”

Home Improvement

Target Acquired

The Baker-Polito administration recently announced it has established an ambitious greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions-reduction goal for the next three-year Mass Save Energy Efficiency Plan. The goals, established as part of comprehensive climate legislation signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in March, are intended to help the Commonwealth meet its ambitious goal to reduce GHG emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2030.

The GHG reduction goal for the three-year energy-efficiency plan, established in a letter issued by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides to Mass Save program administrators, builds upon the framework established in the administration’s 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap and 2030 Interim Clean Energy and Climate Plan. The goal requires the Commonwealth’s utility companies to pursue an ambitious emissions-reduction goal through Mass Save in a cost-effective and equitable manner while creating jobs and opportunities for economic development throughout Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in ambitious clean-energy and energy-efficiency policies with programs like Mass Save, helping residents save money on their energy bills while making substantial progress on our climate goals,” Baker said. “The goals we are setting today will help spark innovative efficiency solutions and lead to significant reductions in harmful greenhouse-gas emissions to combat the effects of climate change.”

“In establishing this emissions-reduction goal, our administration is laying the groundwork for significant investments in energy-efficient infrastructure and job creation across the Commonwealth,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. “These investments will reduce air pollution in our cities and towns, create new economic opportunities, and lower energy costs for our residents and businesses across the state.”

The GHG reduction goal for the 2022-24 Joint Statewide Energy Efficiency Plan for electric utility companies requires the reduction of 504,955 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions, while the emissions reduction for gas-utility companies requires the reduction of 335,588 metric tons of CO2e.

Gov. Charlie Baker

Gov. Charlie Baker

“The goals we are setting today will help spark innovative efficiency solutions and lead to significant reductions in harmful greenhouse-gas emissions to combat the effects of climate change.”

“Massachusetts remains a national leader in energy efficiency, but we continue to pursue innovative approaches to make our buildings more efficient, drive investment to our cities and towns, and help our state meet its ambitious target of net-zero emissions by 2050,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said. “The goals set today will not only help residents and businesses increase efficiency and reduce emissions, but also ensure that equity is a central priority in our efficiency programs as we continue to transition to a clean-energy future.”

The climate legislation signed by Baker requires both economy-wide and sector limits, which will be set first for 2025, then for 2030. The Mass Save program prepares three-year investment plans, one for gas programs and another for electricity and delivered heating fuels. Those plans include goals and reporting requirements for three sectors: residential, residential income-eligible ratepayers, and commercial customers.

The Mass Save energy-efficiency programs are funded by utility customers. All residents and businesses located in investor-owned utility territories in Massachusetts pay into a fund through their utility bill, which supports these programs. The three-year plan directs how these funds will be spent on financial-incentive programs for homes and businesses. The development, implementation, and evaluation of three-year plans is overseen by the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC), which is chaired by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER). A resolution created by the EEAC this past March details the EEAC’s priorities for the upcoming three-year plan, as well as providing specific recommendations to support these priorities.

The letter sent by heoharides to the utility companies that administer the Mass Save Program details the goals and priorities for the 2022-24 energy-efficiency plans, which are currently in development and which must be voted on by the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council and submitted to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) by Oct. 31.

It is anticipated that Mass Save will achieve the GHG emission-reduction goals by increasing the number of buildings retrofitted and weatherized each year, making significant investment in electrification of existing buildings to transition customers away from fossil fuels, reducing support for fossil-fuel heating incentives, phasing out LED lightbulb incentives, increasing equitable program investments in environmental-justice communities and low- to moderate-income households, and increasing workforce-development investments to expand diversity in the workforce. The goals build on the administration’s effort to promote long-term decarbonization in coordination with the EEAC and its priorities, such as promoting passive home adoption and air-source heat pumps.

“Energy-efficiency measures are the most cost-effective way for residents and businesses to lower their energy bills and to lower our greenhouse-gas emissions,” Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said. “DOER looks forward to our continued partnership with the Mass Save program administrators and the EEAC to design a plan that meets this ambitious mandate.”

The final 2022-24 energy-efficiency plans, to be filed with the DPU in October, are required to be designed to achieve the GHG goals established in the secretary’s letter and should focus on programs that accelerate the market transformation needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The plan should reflect the GHG-reduction goals and include a performance-incentive mechanism that ensures that electric and gas utilities are incentivized to achieve these goals.

On March 26, Baker signed comprehensive climate-change legislation that significantly increased protections for environmental-justice communities across Massachusetts; authorized the administration to implement a new, voluntary, energy-efficient building code for municipalities; and allowed the Commonwealth to procure an additional 2,400 megawatts of clean, reliable offshore wind energy by 2027. Recognizing the significant impact of climate change on environmental-justice communities overburdened by poor air quality and disproportionately high levels of pollution, the legislation statutorily defined environmental-justice and environmental burdens, including climate change as an environmental burden.

The legislation also expanded Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act review to require an environmental-impact report for all projects that impact air quality within one mile of an environmental-justice neighborhood and required the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a stakeholder process to develop a cumulative impact analysis as a condition of permitting certain projects.

Daily News

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported today that the month of June 2021 at MGM Springfield, Plainridge Park Casino (PPC), and Encore Boston Harbor generated approximately $84 million in Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) for the Commonwealth.

Breaking down the numbers, MGM Springfield generated $16.53 million in slot GGR and $3.67 million in table game GGR, for a total of $20.2 million, which netted $5.05 million in taxes. These numbers are down from May, when the casino generated $17.23 million in slot GGR and $4.02 million in table GGR, for a total of $21.25 million. But the numbers are slightly better than June of 2019 (the casino was closed to the pandemic during that month last year), when MGM Springfield generated $14.7 million in slot GGR and $5.3 in table GGR for a total of $19.9 million in total GGR.

This June, Encore generated $29.35 million, and $23.2 million, respectively, for a total of $52.56 million in GGR and $13.2 million in taxes, while PPC generated $11.3 million in slots GGR and $5.45 million in taxes.

PPC, a category 2 slots facility, is taxed on 49% of GGR. Of that total taxed amount, 82% is paid to Local Aid and 18% is allotted to the Race Horse Development Fund. MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor, category 1 resort-casinos, are taxed on 25% of GGR; those monies are allocated to several specific state funds as determined by the gaming statute.

To date, the Commonwealth has collected approximately $816 million in total taxes and assessments from PPC, MGM and Encore since the respective openings of each gaming facility.

Banking and Financial Services

Strike Against Hunger

Andrew Morehouse thanks Country Bank

A surprised Andrew Morehouse thanks Country Bank for the $500,000 donation to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Paul Scully says he wants to “throw hunger a curveball.”

And to the leaders of two Massachusetts food banks, it was a welcome pitch indeed.

At its annual meeting on June 21, Country Bank unveiled its most recent — and largest — donation targeting the persistent issue of food insecurity in the Bay State, surprising Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and Jean McMurray, executive director of the Worcester Food Bank, with two $500,000 checks, one for each organization.

“With everything we’re hearing these days about the shortage of food and the high expense of food … the need is real out there,” Scully said during the announcement event. “It’s really exciting for us and an honor to announce we’re kicking off a million-dollar pledge to throw hunger a curveball, and we are presenting a $500,000 check to both Jean and Andrew for your organizations.”

It’s just the latest, and largest, in a remarkable show of support from banks across the region in the fight against food insecurity, which spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to be a persistent problem. Most banks in Western Mass. have ramped up their contributions to area food banks and food pantries, often significantly.

“As a community partner, we care deeply about the sustainability of our communities and the people who live in them,” Scully added, noting that this $1 million pledge reflects an recognition of the burdens many have experienced throughout this past year.

“I’m in awe of Country Bank’s generosity and so impressed by their commitment to the community, whether it be Worcester County or the four counties of Western Massachusetts.”

Newly appointed Country Bank board members Elizabeth Cohen-Rappaport, Richard Maynard, Ross Dik, and Stacey Luster presented the checks to Morehouse and McMurray at the annual meeting.

“I’m in awe of Country Bank’s generosity and so impressed by their commitment to the community, whether it be Worcester County or the four counties of Western Massachusetts,” a visibly surprised Morehouse said. “This demonstrates that Country Bank is for real, and they practice what they preach.”

McMurray was equally touched. “This was totally unexpected, but, when I think about it, Worcester, and Worcester County, is the best place to live, to work, and to give back, and we are going to put this tremendous gift from Country Bank to work so none of our neighbors has to go hungry.”

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts relies on donations from individuals, businesses, foundations, civic organizations, faith-based groups, schools, and government to fulfill its expanding mission. With the help of that support, it provided the equivalent of 12.3 million meals in in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2020 — a significant increase from meals provided in previous years, and a pace that continued as the pandemic extended well into 2021.

“Country Bank is always looking at the basic needs of folks in our communities, whether food services, shelter and homelessness, as well as healthcare — those are the primary pillars where the bank tries to make the most of its donations,” said Shelley Regin, the bank’s senior vice president of Marketing.

The support for food banks comes at a critical time, not just in Massachusetts, but nationally. Feeding America estimates that the pandemic caused 13.1 million non-elderly adults to seek free meals or free groceries for the first time.

“The pandemic forced businesses and workers to make tough decisions,” said Ash Slupski, the organization’s website marketing manager. “To prevent the spread of coronavirus, many businesses were forced to close or lay off employees. This is especially true for people employed in restaurants, hotels, other service industries, and small businesses.”

Meanwhile, the needs of remote learning, especially for young children, forced many working parents to temporarily leave their jobs to be home, if they couldn’t work remotely themselves. And many faced reduced hours and paychecks when they did return to work, Slupski noted. “All these changes impact people’s ability to provide for their families now and plan for the future.”

To meet the growing need locally, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts recently revealed plans for a new distribution center and headquarters, which will be located on the corner of Carew and East Main streets in Chicopee. Construction on the new headquarters, which will be larger and more sustainably build than the current location in Hatfield, is expected to begin next spring.

Regin noted that, in 2020, Country Bank’s philanthropy exceeded $1 million by supporting 450 nonprofits throughout the region, mainly focused on helping food pantries, homeless shelters, COVID-19 relief services, veterans, and other programs that supported the everyday needs of the people in its communities.

“Country Bank really wants to make sure we’re supporting all our communities,” which extend geographically from Springfield to Worcester, she noted. “It starts with Paul, and we all follow his lead in looking for ways the bank can make a difference. We support many charities, as many banks do, but it starts with Paul; he’s a great leader in that way, and we’re all on board.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

Opinion

Editorial

 

As the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, another battle — yes, we can call it that — is emerging on just how the state should spend more than $5 billion in federal stimulus money coming it’s way.

Actually, there are different fronts to this conflict, the first being a large disagreement over who should control this windfall, with both Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature believing that they know, better than the other, how this money should be allocated.

We’re not sure either is fully qualified, but that’s another matter.

Let’s get back to the money — $5.3 billion of it, to be exact. This is the state’s share of the proceeds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP). It is, indeed, a windfall, a rare opportunity to take money with no real strings attached to it and put it to some good.

So, naturally, there has to be disagreement over who should control the money and how it should be spent — should we really expect anything else? We hope these differences of opinion can be worked out quickly (probably not, but we can hope), and that the state can commence allocating this money in ways that will create opportunity and address long-standing problems. It appears likely that the proceeds will be divided in some way, with the governor controlling a large portion and the Legislature deciding how to spend what’s left.

Already, the governor has indicated several priorities, including everything from the housing crisis to battling opioid addiction; from infrastructure work to funding the state’s announced vaccine lottery sweepstakes.

While these are worthy causes, to be sure (although we certainly believe there are better ways to spend $6.5 million than a lottery), money needs to be set aside to help the businesses of this state, many of which are still battling to fully recover from the pandemic. While many business sectors are starting to rebound, especially the hospitality industry after a brutal 15 months of stagnancy and then several levels of reopening, many individual businesses are struggling to get all the way back.

One big obstacle is workforce. Companies across all sectors are struggling to find good help, and an infusion of funds into training programs would certainly help address the ongoing labor shortages. As economic-development leaders have said for years, the problem isn’t necessarily with the numbers of people in the workforce, but the skills they possess.

Meanwhile, we share the business community’s disappointment that the governor remains opposed to allocating some of the money from the American Rescue Plan to pay for the huge deficit in the state’s unemployment insurance fund caused by the deep and very sudden job losses during the pandemic; more than 30 states have already committed to using some ARP funds for this purpose.

Baker has instead signed legislation that spreads the hike in the so-called solvency assessment over 20 years and covers $7 billion in unemployment payments tied to pandemic-related job losses.

We don’t believe that simply spreading the payments over 20 years is a real solution to this problem. The pain remains — it’s just dispersed over two decades instead of all at once. While the payments will be smaller, they will still be a burden to businesses that are, as we noted, still struggling to fully recover from the pandemic and don’t need to pay for a problem that was not of their doing.

When it comes to the ARP windfall, the phrase ‘good problem to have’ certainly comes to mind. Indeed, deciding how to allocate $5.3 billion is a test for which there are few truly wrong answers.

But it is incumbent on the governor and the Legislature to come up with the best answers, and some of these involve a business community that is far from out of the woods when it comes to this pandemic and the many challenges that remain.

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Michelle Theroux

Michelle Theroux says businesses in town, including her own, Berkshire Hills Music Academy, are anxious to ramp up operations as the economy reopens.

 

For Mike Sullivan, the past 15 months have been a learning experience on many levels.

As town administrator in South Hadley, Sullivan has learned just how essential online payment systems and Zoom meetings have become for residents who need to do business with the town.

“As we make more access points available to the public, we’ve seen participation in government increase,” Sullivan said, adding that, while many people are looking forward to meeting in person again, Zoom is also here to stay.

The pandemic also taught him about the efficiencies of running Town Hall. By limiting in-person visits to appointment only, staff have been able to more efficiently get business done. Going forward, he looks to follow a model other towns have adopted of limiting hours or closing to the public one day a week.

“There are multiple ways to take care of business,” Sullivan said. “I appreciate that some people have complicated business they need to conduct in person, and we will accommodate them. When residents use online platforms or even ‘snail mail’ instead of visiting Town Hall, it saves money for the town and for everyone’s individual taxes.”

Sullivan made plenty of adjustments to keep South Hadley moving forward during the pandemic. Attendees to last year’s town meeting, for example, never left their cars.

“People tuned into the discussion over their car radios, just like an old drive-in movie,” he said. A similar drive-in town meeting is planned for this year, but there will also be a seating area for those who feel safe enough to leave their cars. “We’re looking forward to getting back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Michelle Theroux, president of the South Hadley and Granby Chamber of Commerce, said one indication of a return to normalcy is the “we’re hiring” signs around town. She acknowledges there are many factors why people are not immediately returning to work, but even with recruitment issues, the signs represent a positive step.

“The good news is that people are looking to hire, and they are in a position to bring people back into the workforce,” she said.

As the end of the pandemic nears, Theroux credits the South Hadley community for its support of small business. From restaurant takeout orders to holiday shopping, it was local people who provided enough support so that no chamber-member businesses permanently closed due to the pandemic.

“Certainly, many downsized and did what they had to do to survive,” she said. “It’s a real credit to community support because small business is such an important part of South Hadley.”

Because small business is such an essential part of South Hadley, banks in town worked with the chamber to secure Paycheck Protection Program funds for businesses in town. In addition, the chamber recently partnered with the Northampton chamber and the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism to secure $20,000 in state grants.

“The good news is that people are looking to hire, and they are in a position to bring people back into the workforce.”

The chamber also spread the word among its members on how they could help each other, as well as support businesses that are not necessarily top of mind.

“If you look at the South Hadley Commons, we all think of the great restaurants there,” Theroux said. “The Commons also has a movie theater and a number of small boutiques that offer unique and personalized items you can’t find at a big-box store.”

 

Forward Momentum

One key project that kept going during the pandemic involves the Woodlawn Shopping Plaza. At one time the site of a Big Y supermarket, the parcel now features various retail stores anchored by Rocky’s Hardware. The site has been approved for a 60-unit, mixed-income apartment complex that will occupy three acres in the back of the parcel.

“Way Finders of Springfield is running the housing-complex project, and they are waiting for federal funding to come through before they break ground,” Sullivan said.

Theroux is excited about the project because it provides a glimpse at the future of development.

“At Woodlawn, you have a multi-use site with different types of businesses and living options all in one central location,” she said, while predicting that the entire area surrounding Woodlawn will see a revitalization over the next several years. As one example, Northampton Cooperative Bank and PeoplesBank have recently opened branches in or near the Woodlawn Plaza.

Sullivan also pointed with pride to the new senior center on Dayton Street, which is scheduled to open June 30.

“We were able to successfully build the senior center during the pandemic, and the costs were below the estimated bids,” he said. “Even with increases in some of the materials, we will still come in nearly $700,000 under the original estimate.”

South Hadley at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 17,791
Area: 18.4 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential and commercial tax rate: $19.46 (Fire District 1); $19.80 (Fire District 2)
Median Household Income: $46,678
Median Family Income: $58,693
Type of government: Town meeting
Largest Employers: Mount Holyoke College; the Loomis Communities; Coveris Advanced Coatings; Big Y
* Latest information available

Six years ago, Mohawk Paper opened a plant in South Hadley to great fanfare and optimism for a long relationship with the community. Last year, in pursuit of more favorable taxes and incentives, the company closed its operations in South Hadley and moved to Ohio.

As tough as it was to see Mohawk pack up and leave, Sullivan noted that E Ink, the company located across Gaylord Street from the former Mohawk plant, has good news moving forward. “E Ink is planning to double in size because they have a new product line coming out.”

E Ink makes the agent used in tablets like the Amazon Kindle, which allows an electronic page to read like a physical book. In addition to tablets, E Ink screens are used in a variety of applications ranging from signage at MBTA stations and international airports to retail price signs.

On top of contributing as a successful company, Sullivan noted that E Ink is a strong supporter of community projects and events in South Hadley.

Meanwhile, the Ledges Golf Club, owned by the town and a financial drag for many years, is on its way to performing at par. At the beginning of the pandemic last year, golf courses across the state were mandated to stay closed for several weeks. Sullivan called the lost months a “kick in the shins” because, once it opened, the Ledges did brisk business all season and came close to hitting a break-even point.

“This year, we made $200,000 in revenue in just March and April,” Sullivan said. “By the end of the fiscal year next June, we think the Ledges will break even.”

In addition to her duties as chamber president, Theroux’s full time job is executive director of Berkshire Hills Music Academy (BHMA), a music-infused program that helps young adults with special needs to expand their social, vocational, and life skills. Before the pandemic, BHMA employed just over 100 people. Though it normally offers both residential and day programs, state mandates forced BHMA to quickly shift to remote classes for its day students. After furloughs and layoffs due to the new mandates, 64 staff remain.

“Our current state is a hybrid model where we have about 40% of our day students back on campus, with the rest joining us by remote,” Theroux said. “Once we can fully reopen, we’d like to staff up to where we were before the pandemic.”

Looking ahead to the fall, she wasn’t sure what to expect for new enrollments, but was pleasantly surprised to see strong numbers for BHMA’s incoming class.

“Once their loved one is vaccinated, many families are all in on our program, and that’s a huge positive for us,” Theroux said. “Three months ago, I would not have been as confident about what next year would look like.”

 

Back to School

After more than a year of remote learning, Mount Holyoke College students have begun to return to campus. While remote learning is still available, many have indicated they plan to return to campus in the fall.

“The presence of Mount Holyoke students back on campus will provide a real boost to South Hadley feeling normal again,” Theroux said.

Sullivan is on the move, too. After a long career of public service, he has announced he will retire in June. Looking back, he points to a number of projects he’s helped shepherd to success. One area of particular pride is the progress South Hadley has made in hiring a more diverse workforce. As an example, he mentioned Police Chief Jennifer Gundersen, who recently joined South Hadley’s force after several years in Amherst.

“Certainly, many downsized and did what they had to do to survive. It’s a real credit to community support because small business is such an important part of South Hadley.”

Sullivan in only one of South Hadley’s leaders who are moving on. Planning Director Richard Harris is also retiring, and the superintendent of schools left in December to pursue another professional path.

While grateful for their service to the town, Theroux sees this as a time for South Hadley to bring new faces into leadership roles.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, I’m optimistic about the future and a new era of leadership for our town,” she said, adding that she looks forward to people once again enjoying all that South Hadley has to offer.

Law

Examining PFML

Paid family medical leave is now the law in Massachusetts. And while most all employers know that, they may not know all the provisions and eligibility rules for this important piece of legislation. They need to know, because failure to abide by all those provisions may be costly, in more ways than one.

By Katharine Shove, Esq.

 

Back in 2018, Gov. Charlie Baker signed the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave program (PFML) into law. That legislation has now taken effect, and many employers have questions about exactly how the law works and to whom it applies.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, most eligible employees who work in Massachusetts are entitled to paid, job-protected time off from work to manage a serious health condition of their own; to bond with a child following the child’s birth, adoption, or foster placement; or to care for a family member suffering from a serious health condition.

Katharine Shove, Esq

Katharine Shove, Esq

“The PFML law has strict notice requirements. Employers must provide written notice of the PFML program to all employees within 30 days of the employee’s start date.”

The PFML program is run by the state’s Department of Family and Medical Leave, providing income replacement benefits to eligible employees. PFML benefits are funded by a payroll contribution deducted from employees’ wages. Under the PFML law, employers were required to begin such contributions on Oct. 1, 2019.

 

 

Who Is Eligible?

Leave under the PFML program applies to most W-2 employees in Massachusetts, regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time, or seasonal. Unlike the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Massachusetts PFML law says an employee is not required to work for a minimum length of time in order to be eligible for leave under the PFML law. However, an employee must meet the minimum-threshold earning requirements in order to be eligible for leave under the law.

 

How Many Weeks of Leave Are Available?

The PFML law requires employers to provide eligible employees up to 26 weeks of leave in a benefit year. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, eligible employees may be entitled to up to 20 weeks of paid leave to manage their own serious health condition. Eligible employees may also receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a child who is newly born, adopted, or placed in foster care, and up to 26 weeks to care for a family member in the Armed Forces.

On July 1, 2021, employees will be able to receive up to 12 weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Under the Massachusetts PFML law, a family member could be an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, parent of a spouse, or parent of a domestic partner.

In the aggregate, eligible employees may not receive more than 26 weeks of paid leave in a benefit year, even if they have more than one family member who may need care.

 

Requirement of Written Notice to Employees

The PFML law has strict notice requirements. Employers must provide written notice of the PFML program to all employees within 30 days of the employee’s start date. Such notice must include information about the benefits under the PFML program, contribution rates, and job protections under the law. The notice to employees must also include an opportunity for an individual to either acknowledge or decline receipt. In addition to written notice, employers must display posters (issued or approved by the Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave) that explain the benefits available to eligible employees under the PFML law.

 

Application Process

Employees must inform their employers of their need to take leave under the law at least 30 days before the start of the leave, and before filing an application for leave with the state. Where reasons beyond an employee’s control prevent them from giving such advance notice, they must inform their employer as soon as is practical. It is then the employee’s responsibility to apply for leave through the Department of Family and Medical Leave, and the department will make the decision as to whether the leave is approved or denied. Once the department receives the employee’s application, the department will request information from the employer relative to the employee’s job status.

 

Important Considerations for Employers

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate or retaliate against an employee for exercising any right to which he or she is entitled under the law, including the right to request PFML leave. To this end, the PFML law has a strict anti-retaliation provision. If an employer takes adverse action against an employee during the employee’s leave, or within six months after their return to work, there is a presumption that the employer retaliated against the employee for exercising his or her rights under the PFML law.

It is then the employer’s burden to prove there was some independent and justifiable reason for taking the adverse employment action. Adverse employment action can include termination of employment, disciplinary action, or reduction in status, pay, or benefits.

The PFML law runs concurrently with other applicable state and federal leave laws, such as the federal FMLA and the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act. Similar to the federal FMLA, a Massachusetts employee who returns to work after taking leave under PFML law must be returned to same or similar position as he or she had prior to their leave.

If an employee files a lawsuit against his or her employer for violation of the PFML law and the employer is found to be in violation of the PFML law, numerous remedies are available to the employee. These remedies include reinstatement of the employee to the same or similar position, three times the employee’s lost wages and benefits, and the employee’s attorney’s fees incurred in bringing the action.

 

Can Employers Opt Out of the Program?

Some Massachusetts employers can opt out of the PFML program and apply for an exemption from paying PFML contributions if they purchase a private plan with benefits that are as generous as the state’s plan, and which provide the same protections.

 

Get Assistance with Making Policy

The PFML rollout presents a great deal of new information to navigate both for employees and employers. A qualified attorney will be able to assist with interpretation of the PFML, amending current leave policies, and practical matters of doing business in this new benefit environment. For those with questions about the Massachusetts PFML program, the best protection is to seek guidance from an experienced employment-law attorney.

 

Attorney Katharine Shove is an associate with Bacon Wilson, P.C. and a member of the firm’s litigation team. She works on matters of employment law involving discrimination and retaliation, wage-and-hour laws, and workplace policies and compliance; (413) 781-0560; [email protected]

Restaurants Special Coverage

Chain of Events

John (right) and Chris LaVoie at Hot Table’s location in Tower Square.

John (right) and Chris LaVoie at Hot Table’s location in Tower Square.

Hot Table, now a chain of panini restaurants, started humbly in 2007 with a small location in the Breckwood Shoppes in Springfield. The brand has come a long way since then, and in many different ways. There are now seven locations, with plans for four more to open this year or early next, including the first free-standing facility. After that … well, the partners talk of having perhaps 50 stores by the end of this decade. What they do know is that growth will be controlled — and strategic in nature.

John DeVoie gestured toward an array of architect’s renderings of Hot Table’s first free-standing facility, complete with a mobile pickup window, planned for Memorial Drive in Chicopee, and said, “that’s our future.”

He then corrected himself and said, “well … that’s a big part of our future.”

Indeed, the future takes a number of shapes and directions for this growing chain of panini restaurants. Indeed, while construction is due to start on that Chicopee location later this year or early in 2022, work will begin before that on new locations within shopping malls in Framingham and West Hartford, with an additional location planned for a development, blueprinted by Pride Stations owner Bob Bolduc, to reshape the land inside the jug handle off turnpike exit 3 in Westfield with Hot Table and Starbucks.

Overall, this chain, which started with one small restaurant in the Breckwood Shoppes across Wilbraham Road from Western New England University and now has seven locations, has aggressive plans to add four more restaurants by the end of this year and reach perhaps 50 by the end of this decade.

“For the most part, we’re keeping our efforts focused on New England,” said John, who launched the chain with his brother, Chris, and another partner in 2007. “And over the next 10 years, we want to become a well-known, regional brand.”

This brand is striving for a mix of free-standing facilities like the one in Chicopee and more locations leased in retail centers, and, overall, a “balanced portfolio,” said Chris, adding that the goal is measured growth.

“We’re very excited to grow, but we want to grow the right way,” he told BusinessWest. “We don’t want to add overhead and layers of management just to support a few more stores; we want to be very strategic about how and where we expand.”

Overall, with four new stores on the drawing board, 2021 is certainly shaping up as a milestone year in the company’s history, one that will take it to new markets and in new directions. This growth and territorial expansion come at a time when many restaurants have been fighting to merely survive the COVID-19 — and some haven’t. Hot Table itself was hit hard initially.

“In March and April, when the pandemic hit, we weren’t sure we had a company — we had an 80% plunge in revenue,” John recalled. “We had the same ‘what the heck just hit us?’ experience that just about everyone in the restaurant business did.”

But within the fast-casual category within this sector, many chains bounced back quickly and have enjoyed success since, said John, adding that many have benefited from the takeout nature of most business and also from an added delivery component.

Hot Table invested in an app that enables consumers to order from the menu and arrange delivery through Grubhub or another provider, said John, adding that the technology served to introduce the brand to new audiences.

An architect’s rendering of Hot Table’s first free-standing location

An architect’s rendering of Hot Table’s first free-standing location, slated for a parcel on Memorial Drive in Chicopee.

“That was a silver lining for us,” he explained. “We had a lot of folks discover us who might have just been at home ordering from a third-party platform, who had never been in one of our stores.”

And this is just one of the ways the pandemic has actually benefited Hot Table, he went on, adding that it has made real estate both more available and more affordable.

So much so that the company, which has long considered Boston far out of its reach when it comes to real-estate prices, is being encouraged to take a good look at the Hub.

Whether this chain can actually attain a Boston address for one its locations is one of the many questions that will be answered over the next several years. For now, the company is focused on 2021, and all that it has on its plate — literally as well as figuratively.

For this issue and its focus on restaurants, BusinessWest talked with the brothers DeVoie and third partner Rich Calcasola, based in Charlotte, N.C., to get a sense for where this brand can go next and how big the portfolio can become.

 

Ingredients for Success

As he referenced those architectural renderings of the Chicopee site, John DeVoie pointed to what could become the ‘golden arches’ for this chain. That would be the tall red signage, or marquee, with what has become the company’s brand — a stylized slice of panini bread with grill marks running across it, with the words ‘Hot Table’ over it.

It’s not really possible to put such large, pronounced signage on the existing locations within shopping plazas, he said, adding that the new look represents another breakthrough for the company and an opportunity to not only sell more paninis, but grow its brand.

“When you build your own building, you have the opportunity to think about what your brand says on the outside — what is the golden arch for us?” he noted. “And it’s a long way from our origins at the Breckwood Shoppes.”

By that, he meant not just the marquee, but the free-standing store concept, locations on both ends of the state, aggressive plans to add four stores in just over a year, and ongoing talk about where to go next.

“For the most part, we’re keeping our efforts focused on New England. And over the next 10 years, we want to become a well-known, regional brand.”

But before talking more about the present and future, let’s recap how we got here.

Our story begins in 2006, when John and Chris, both successful in corporate sales, decided they wanted to make money for themselves, instead of someone else, and started to focus on the restaurant industry.

Blending vast amounts of experience with taking corporate clients with a healthy appetite for entrepreneurship out to eat, they started shaping a concept for the growing fast-casual category of eatery, and followed the advice of their sister, who told them about a dining model she encountered on a trip to Italy — cafés of sorts called tavola calda, which translates, literally, to ‘hot table,’ and their parents, who suggested a made-to-order panini concept.

For their first location, the two chose the Breckwood Shoppes, which they knew well because they both graduated from Western New England. The site wouldn’t attract any of the huge players in the fast-casual arena — Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, Shake Shack, and others — because of the demographics of the surrounding area, but for them, it worked.

It blended the college crowd — students, professors, staff, and administration alike — with a thickly settled neighborhood, large traffic volume, and visitors to other shops in the plaza.

The large players in smart casual wouldn’t have gone where Hot Table went next — Tower Square in downtown Springfield, in 2009 — either. But the brothers, enticed by the large population of office workers in surrounding towers and an attractive offer from then-owner MassMutual, decided to roll the dice. And they essentially rolled a ‘7.’ Indeed, the site has become a popular lunchtime destination — even moreso with recent arrivals such as Cambridge College and UMass Amherst Center at Springfield — and has even thrived during the pandemic without most of those workers and students.

“We’re pretty close to last year’s numbers, overall,” said John, comparing 2020 with 2019. “What’s happened is that this has become a delivery hub for people in West Springfield, Chicopee, and other cities and towns.

“With the new model of how we do business — we have more than 30,000 users of our app, which allows people to order and then utilize a third-party platform for delivery — our business model shifted,” he went on. “So now, we’re way above pre-pandemic sales levels overall.”

After Tower Square, the DeVoie brothers, now partnering with Calcasola, have been focusing on where the large players in fast-casual have put down stakes. In fact, the strategy has been to follow them — on the theory that their research into where to locate is certainly solid — and, in doing so, create more of a critical mass of quality eateries, which creates dining destinations.

“In March and April, when the pandemic hit, we weren’t sure we had a company — we had an 80% plunge in revenue. We had the same ‘what the heck just hit us?’ experience that just about everyone in the restaurant business did.”

This was the case with the company’s next locations — in Enfield (2012) and Glastonbury, Conn. (2014), Route 9 in Hadley (also 2014), Marlborough (2017), and Worcester (2019). And that’s also the case, to one extent or another, with the Chicopee (there’s a Chick-fil-A right next door), Framingham, Hartford, and Westfield locations.

“People just drive there to eat, and you get in the rotation,” Chris said. “When Chick-Fil-A and other competitors came to Enfield, our sales went up.”

 

Location, Location, Location

When asked about the chain’s ‘formula’ when it comes to identifying markets they want to be in and then locations within those markets, the partners said it involves a blend of science and intuition, but mostly critical masses of traffic, retail, diners, and, yes, competitors.

All these ingredients are found in Hadley, said Calcasola, noting not only the large college population (there are four colleges within a few miles of the store’s location on Route 9), but also a host of fast-casual competitors and a large and growing cluster of retail that draws people from three counties.

Most of these same essentials can be found in Worcester, in the chain’s site in the the Trolley Yard, a mixed-use development that is also home to Starbucks, Chipotle, Sprint, and other national brands. Indeed, Worcester boasts seven colleges and a growing business base, said Chris, noting that it benefits greatly from being within easier commuting distance from Boston.

Meanwhile, in Marlboro, there are no colleges, little retail, and a less-dense population than in other communities the chain calls home. But there are a number of office parks and hotels, said John, adding that this was the store most impacted by the pandemic — although it, too, has rebounded.

An architect’s rendering of Hot Table’s first free-standing location

The Hot Table chain has come a long way since the opening of its first location in the Breckwood Shoppes in Springfield.

In Chicopee, Memorial Drive has been transformed into a retail destination over the past decade, said Chris, noting that the changes have caught the attention of Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Chick Fil-A, which made that the address for its first (and still only) location in Western Mass.

Meanwhile, the Framingham store now under construction and set to open in June is in Shoppers World, a large retail complex boasting 27 stores, including Chick-Fil-A, Olive Garden, TGI Fridays, and Chipotle.

“That whole area is called the Golden Triangle,” said John, referring to the retail district in Framingham and Natick. “And it’s the number-one retail destination in metro Boston. So it’s kind of a big jump for us, but our business model now supports that.”

By ‘big jump,’ he meant, among other things, the rates for the property being leased, which was also the case in West Hartford and a spot in Corbin’s Corner next to Shake Shack, although, as noted earlier, the pandemic has eased some of the sticker shock, while also creating some opportunities as stores — and restaurants — went out of business.

“There are more opportunities in the form of spaces becoming available,” said Calcasola. “Meanwhile, the asking price dropped in some locations, including West Hartford; we’re still paying a good amount of money, but not what they were advertising it for a year and half ago.”

As to the question of where the chain might go next, there are many ways to answer it.

For starters, the company wants to go where those major brands listed several times above are going. In fact, that’s usually the first question being asked, said Chris, noting that, as Hot Table ponders whether to expand into Rhode Island, the presence of other chains is a key consideration.

“We’re pretty close to last year’s numbers, overall. What’s happened is that this has become a delivery hub for people in West Springfield, Chicopee, and other cities and towns.”

“We’ll ask if there are Chick Fil-As and Chipotles around,” he told BusinessWest. “Wherever they’re going, that’s where we want to be. We want to compete with the nationals.”

Availability of real estate is another issue, said John, adding that the company has long sought to be on Riverdale Street in West Springfield, specifically the stretch south of I-91, but has not been able to secure a location because of exclusivity clauses secured by some competitors. Meanwhile, price remains an issue in some areas, including Boston, although the pandemic, as noted, might bring that city into reach.

“We have a consultant that we work with. Before the pandemic, he said, ‘guys, don’t even bother going into Boston; it’s crazy — don’t do it,’” said John. “The last meeting we had with him, he said, ‘you may want to think about exploring opportunities in Boston.’”

 

Pressing On

When and if the company goes down that road remains to be seen. For now, its principals, as noted, have other things on their plate.

Lots of them.

Indeed, this will be a year when Hot Table takes giant strides toward becoming that established brand the partners want it to be, a year when that image of the panini top with the grill marks on it becomes known in new markets and in new ways, like that sign on the property in Chicopee.

That location isn’t the future — but it is a big part of the future, with additional growth and territorial expansion on the menu.

As John DeVoie said, this company has come a long way from the Breckwood Shoppes — and in all kinds of ways.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Palmer has a long history as a key train stop

Palmer has a long history as a key train stop, making it an oft-discussed part of conversations about expanded east-west rail.

As the nation recovers from a year of dealing with COVID-19, Palmer Town Manger Ryan McNutt looks to the future with optimism.

While larger cities had to contend with high COVID infection numbers and revenue losses from business taxes, Palmer maintained low infection numbers and relies more on residential taxes, which remained stable.

These days, as many people in the larger metropolitan areas work from home, there is no certainty they will return to five days a week in the office. That dynamic, McNutt believes, gives Palmer a real opportunity. With the average home price in Palmer at $191,000 compared to the Greater Boston area average of more than a half-million dollars, he wants to take advantage of this moment.

“The ability to start a family and work toward the American dream is much more difficult to afford in the Greater Boston area and much easier in our area,” he told BusinessWest. “We may see a change in working conditions where office workers spend up to four days a week at home, which would allow them to live in Western Mass. and take advantage of our affordability.”

McNutt is creating a marketing plan to reach out to the Boston area as well as other densely populated urban areas to promote the value and quality of life available in Palmer and surrounding areas.

“Right now, there are three alternative plans for how the east-west rail will be configured, and Palmer has a stop in each scenario.”

One huge boon for Palmer in this regard would be the proposed east-west rail project. The plan to offer passenger rail service from Pittsfield to Boston has been included in the federal infrastructure plan about to go to Congress. McNutt said east-west rail would be transformative for his town.

“Right now, there are three alternative plans for how the east-west rail will be configured, and Palmer has a stop in each scenario,” he said. Though many steps remain before the plan wins approval and comes to fruition, town planners are looking to identify the right location, and they want to make sure it’s shovel-ready.

“I want to be so ready that, if we were told they could helicopter in a train station and drop it where a site was selected, we want to be ready for that helicopter,” he said.

 

Engine of Opportunity

The economic potential of a train stop in Palmer is not lost on Andrew Surprise, CEO of Quabog Hills Chamber of Commerce. On the job since January, Surprise looks to help chamber members increase their engagement with state and local officials, as well as identify economic programs to benefit the area.

He has already begun working on a grant for downtown Palmer through the Transformative Development Initiative, a MassDevelopment program. The grant provides incentives for businesses to locate in condensed areas, like downtown settings, that are walkable.

“That’s a positive for us because Palmer’s downtown is very walkable,” Surprise said.

He is also applying to the Massachusetts Cultural Council to have downtown Palmer designated as a cultural district. In addition to being a walkable area, a community must show it hosts arts and cultural events on a regular basis.

Surprise admits these projects will take several years to be successful, but the effort would be worth it. “A well-developed and vibrant downtown will help us bring in other businesses.”

Andrew Surprise

Andrew Surprise

“Palmer is well-placed for manufacturing facilities; its access to major highways makes it easy to get products to Boston, Hartford, Albany, and New York City.”

As part of his outreach to local officials, he reminds them of Palmer’s tradition and continued relevance as a manufacturing town.

“There has been a lot of talk on the national level about restoring manufacturing jobs,” he said, adding that communities like Palmer that have plenty of available land could be attractive to Boston-area high-tech companies looking for manufacturing space. “Palmer is well-placed for manufacturing facilities; its access to major highways makes it easy to get products to Boston, Hartford, Albany, and New York City.”

The chamber recently conducted a survey among its members to find out how they weathered the pandemic. Results so far show that two-thirds of businesses have been able to avoid employee layoffs. By finding alternatives such as reducing hours, many avoided having to reduce their staffs.

Palmer at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 13,050
Area: 32 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate, residential and commercial: Palmer, $22.63; Three Rivers, $23.28; Bondsville, $23.67; Thorndike, $23.62
Median Household Income: $41,443
Median Family Income: $49,358
Type of government: Town Manager; Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Sanderson MacLeod Inc., Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Market
* Latest information available

“We conducted the survey to learn what types of services the chamber could offer to help businesses find success going forward,” Surprise said, noting that these are only preliminary results, as all surveys have not yet been returned.

As a first step, the chamber is planning a number of seminars for small businesses to help them increase foot traffic and bring in new customers through approaches such as digital marketing.

“Many small businesses are not familiar with digital or social media marketing, and it’s really a necessary tool in the 21st century,” he noted.

 

On the Right Track

McNutt is hopeful some kind of infrastructure package passes Congress because, like municipal leaders all over the country, he faces big projects that need attention.

“There are 47,000 deficient bridges in the U.S., including the nine that are in Palmer,” he said.

But for a small community, he added, taking on a big infrastructure project is a heavy lift, and Palmer has been working with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal to secure funding for at least two bridges, on Main Street and Church Street, which need the most attention.

One project that could add significantly to the town tax revenues involves building 300 seasonal cottages on Forest Lake. McNutt is excited about the potential for this project.

“Folks are coming up from New York to buy our homes because they recognize that living space, fresh air, and not being stuck in small square footage are luxuries that we have here.”

“Right now the cottages are planned for warm-weather use and would bring plenty of folks in to stay in town,” he said. “They will most likely go to local restaurants and make other purchases, so we could see a real economic multiplier effect from this project.”

Palmer has also agreed to be a host community for the cannabis industry. Two retail sites and two cultivation businesses have run into delays to start their enterprises, but McNutt blames COVID for the slowdown.

“The Cannabis Control Commission held fewer meetings than they normally would, and site visits were more difficult to do,” he explained. “In short, everything in the regulatory environment was just harder to do during the pandemic.” He feels confident at least one site will be up and running this year or early in 2022.

As the number of people vaccinated increases and COVID concerns decrease, he believes the opportunity is now for Palmer and surrounding towns.

“Folks are coming up from New York to buy our homes because they recognize that living space, fresh air, and not being stuck in small square footage are luxuries that we have here.”

McNutt noted that people can still pursue the American dream by locating to Palmer because, in addition to its natural surroundings, the town has easy access to metropolitan areas. In short, he said, “we have the best of both worlds.”

Sports & Leisure

A Simple Mission

Just over a year ago this time, Jesse Menachem and his staff at the Massachusetts Golf Assoc. (MGA) were fighting — and fighting hard — to convince the state simply to let golf-course owners maintain their property.

Despite some intense lobbying by his group, Gov. Charlie Baker made golf courses part of his broad shutdown of non-essential businesses in March 2020, and for weeks, the industry lingered in a sort of limbo, not knowing when, if, and under what circumstances courses would be allowed to reopen.

When they did, in mid-May, a number of limiting restrictions kept play at modest levels. But then … the lid came off, and the industry found itself in an enviable position. Indeed, golf was one of the few activities people could take part in during the pandemic, and people started taking it up — or taking it up again, as the case may be, a development that benefited public and private courses alike.

“I’ve heard from clubs that recorded anywhere from a 20% to 50% increase in rounds, which is incredible, because capacity was limited due to the longer intervals between tee times, as mandated by the state,” said Menachem, president of the MGA. “You couldn’t find tee times on weekends at many facilities; with people working from home, working remotely, not traveling, not having family activities like Little League and soccer, golf became number one in a lot of people’s minds, and the game really benefited.”

Jesse Menachem

Jesse Menachem

“If we can sustain or retain at least 25% to 33% of those who participated last year … that’s a goal; that’s a start. More would be great, but we have to be realistic.”

Now, as the 2021 season gets set to begin in earnest (some courses have already been open for several weeks), the golf industry has a simple, yet also complex, mission that Menachem summed up directly and succinctly: “make it sticky.”

By that, he meant those managing the state’s courses have to take advantage of this huge opportunity they’ve been granted and compel those who took to golf last year, because there were few attractive options, stay with the game now that other options exist.

“That’s our job; that’s what we’re up against — we have to make sure it’s sticky, and that’s something we have not been very good at,” he explained. “If we can sustain or retain at least 25% to 33% of those who participated last year … that’s a goal; that’s a start. More would be great, but we have to be realistic.”

Indeed, as they go about this mission, courses will have advantages and selling points they didn’t have last year, said Menachem, especially when it comes to their 19th holes, many of which were closed in 2020, while those that were open faced a mountain of restrictions on what they could serve, when, and how. They have also learned some lessons from last year, including how those longer intervals between tee times improved pace of play, reduced logjams on the course, and improved the overall player experience.

But golf will also be facing far more competition in 2021 when it comes to the time, attention, and spending dollars of those who found the game a year ago. Indeed, as restrictions are eased, individuals and families can return to restaurants, museums, the cottage at the beach, and more.

For course owners and managers, the emphasis must be on providing a solid experience, one that prompts a return visit — or several. This has always been the emphasis, he said, but now even moreso, with courses being presented with what would have to be a considered a unique opportunity.

“It’s really our obligation to make sure that experience is favorable,” Menachem told BusinessWest. “For those who are being reintroduced, or introduced for the first time, we’ve got to invite them back; we have to make them feel comfortable and cater to what their desires are. We have to do everything within our power to make sure that golfer on site has the best experience possible and keep them coming back.”

 

—George O’Brien

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Tyler Saremi

Tyler Saremi sees potential in West Springfield’s downtown, and is taking steps to inject some economic vibrancy.

When Tyler Saremi looks at what is considered downtown West Springfield — the Elm Street/Park Street area — he doesn’t see Northampton or West Hartford.

But he can easily imagine a day when that section of this city that still calls itself a town can attain something approaching a level of vibrancy and an eclectic mix of businesses, especially those in the hospitality sector, that define those communities.

And he’s doing his best to bring that day closer. Indeed, the multi-faceted business run by his family that he serves as vice president, Saremi LLP, acquired 95 Elm St. — known to most as the United Bank building because it was the main tenant for many years — with the goal of … well, turning back the clock in many respects.

The century-old building has, over the decades, been home to cafés, restaurants, a grocery store, banks, and other types of retail, said Saremi, adding that it has always been a destination, and the broad goal with this project is to make it one again. Thus, it has been rebranded as Town Common.

Already, Tandem Bagel, the Hadley-based company with locations there and also in Easthampton and Northampton, will soon occupy space where bank-teller windows have stood on the first floor; the target date for opening is July. Meanwhile, at the other end of the first floor, Saremi pointed to the place where intends to put a restaurant. He said two other leases have been signed, and several more are pending.

“People are just really excited to be part of bringing downtown West Springfield back,” he said. “Our main intention is a café and a restaurant on the first floor; whether we have to open a restaurant ourselves or partner with someone, we don’t care. That’s part of our commitment to West Springfield — it needs a café, and it needs a restaurant, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

“It’s going to be a tough year, but there are reasons for optimism — we see things opening back up.”

The redevelopment of 95 Elm St. is just one of the intriguing stories unfolding in West Springfield, a community that is, like many others, trying to rebound from a pandemic that has taken a huge toll on hospitality-related businesses. And West Side, as it’s called, has many of them, said Mayor Will Reichelt, who counted 20 hotels and motels and a number of restaurants in his community.

But the biggest business in that sector, obviously, is the Big E, which is responsible for filling many those hotels, motels, and restaurants, not just during the 17 days of the annual fair, but almost year-round, as that venue hosts a number of shows centered on everything from horses to toy railroads; dogs to guns and knives.

The Big E has been mostly empty and silent since the pandemic arrived a year ago, and while the outlook for 2021 is more promising, there remains a huge number of unknows, especially with regard to the fair, a situation that Big E President and CEO Gene Cassidy summed up this way:

“It’s like you’re navigating your way down a dark alleyway; you don’t know what’s in front of you — if there’s suddenly going to be a crack in the pavement or if you’re going to walk into a dumpster,” he said, using that phrase to indicate how difficult it is to plan when the rules keep changing, often without much, if any, notice. “Our goal, simply, is to plan to produce a product that people are going to enjoy.”

Cassidy is quite confident there will be a Big E this September — he just doesn’t how many people will be allowed to attend. He doesn’t think it will be full capacity, as in 100,000 people on a weekend day, as in fairs past. Instead, he’s expecting some percentage of that number, which won’t be ideal, but certainly better than last year.

And while most of his energy and attention is still focused on this year’s fair, he said he’s spending a good amount of time lobbying officials to understand the importance of fairs and live events in general, and to help ensure the long-term survival of such institutions, something he believes is now imperiled.

Overall, though, he’s optimistic about the rest of 2021.

Gene Cassidy says a sparsely attended Big E is better than none at all

Gene Cassidy says a sparsely attended Big E is better than none at all, and he’s moving forward with planning after having to cancel the 2020 fair.

“It’s going to be a tough year, but there are reasons for optimism — we see things opening back up,” he said, noting that various expert projections of herd immunity by fall or even sooner are encouraging, even as innumerable challenges and question marks loom.

For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes a hard look at West Side and its efforts to become even more of a destination, even as its business community continues to battle COVID-19 and all the challenges it has brought.

 

Road to Progress

Reichelt, now wrapping up his second term in office, with plans to seek a third, said he can’t find too many silver linings from the pandemic and all the havoc it caused in 2020.

But he can find at least one — acceleration of the process to replace the Morgan-Sullivan Bridge, which connects his city with Agawam. The bridge project, which commenced two years ago, has to pause during the 17-day run of the Big E, he explained, adding that work actually comes to a halt for three weeks or more because of logistical concerns.

Obviously, that didn’t happen in 2020, he went on, adding that a project that was due to be completed this summer will now be done by spring.

“The work is way ahead of schedule,” he said. “Without the Big E, they probably gained a month of working time, and that will certainly help out on the back end.”

The broad mission moving forward is to get more people to travel over that bridge and other thoroughfares into West Side, said Reichelt, adding that the city has always considered itself at the crossroads of this region — I-91 and the turnpike connect there, and Route 5 runs through it as well. This location has long been a huge asset, one that paved the way, if you will, for major retailers and car dealers alike to populate Riverdale Street and Memorial Avenue. It has also brought visitors to the community not only for the Big E and shows on its grounds, but for myriad other tourism- and business-related functions, from leaf peeping to the semiannual EASTEC trade show.

The ongoing goal is to continually take advantage of this asset, build on the foundation that’s been laid, and try to spread the vibrancy to other areas of the city.

Which brings us back to Elm Street, Town Common, and the huge ‘Under New Management’ banner now adorning it.

As he gave BusinessWest a tour, Saremi pointed out the spot where Tandem Bagel would go, then did the same with the restaurant. Venturing to the second floor, much of which is now occupied by Saremi LLP, he showed where a number of smaller spaces, individual offices, and even co-working space might be carved out.

“We want to make it more walkable, more friendly, and more inviting so we can complement the business investment that’s happening there.”

Later, he pointed out one of the huge windows to the traffic — specifically, the juncture of Route 20 and Elm Street.

“This intersection has so much traffic … we need to get people to stop here in downtown West Side, get out, walk around, go to some shops, get something to eat — that’s how I see it,” he noted, adding that there are already some attractions there, including the Celery Stalk restaurant, a legendary luncheon stop; as well as bNapoli restaurant and the Majestic Theater. The broad goal is to build on that critical mass, he said, noting that clusters of eateries and entertainment venues have been the formula for success in Northampton, West Hartford, and other communities.

Reichelt concurred, and told BusinessWest the city is always striving to build on its already-impressive portfolio of retail- and hospitality-related businesses — and also fill in some spots that are less vibrant than others.

Mayor Will Reichelt

Mayor Will Reichelt says initiatives like a new economic recovery director and a series of infrastructure plans will help keep West Springfield on the right track.

As an example, he pointed to Riverdale Street, which actually has two distinct sections, if you will. There’s the one south of I-91, which is thriving and always has, said the mayor, who worked at the Donut Dip on that throughfare in his youth and thus speaks from experience. Then there’s the stretch north of the highway, which, while still vibrant by most measures, has some vacancies and, in general, is underperforming.

Reichelt said the city will look to help address this situation, and other business and economic-development issues in the city, through the hiring, at least on a temporary basis, of what’s being called an ‘economic recovery director.’

“The goal with this new position is to build better business relationships in the community, help with business retention, and focus on some of the underutilized areas, like the north-of-91 section of Riverdale,” he explained.

Already, there are signs of progress, he said, noting the reopened White Hut, the expansion of Calabrese Market on Park Street, and the sale of the former Hofbrahaus property to the owner of the Hangar Pub and Grill and growing ‘Wings Over’ stable of restaurants, among other positive developments.

“The common citizen wants their life to return to normal,” he said. “So I think people will come out … they will come back to fair.”

Meanwhile, a number of infrastructure plans now in place are designed to improve traffic flow and, ultimately, promote more vibrancy in the city. First up is Park Street, he said, adding that it is being repaved and steps are being taken to taken to make the commons more accessible and safer to use. Those plans include what the mayor called a mile-long loop or walking and biking trail around the green space.

Elm Street will follow, he went on, adding that this will be a multi-faceted initiative designed to beautify the area, add more parking, redesign the intersection of Elm Street and Route 20, and allow people to make more and better use of the green space there.

“We want to make it more walkable, more friendly, and more inviting so we can complement the business investment that’s happening there,” he told BusinessWest, adding that this project is in the design phase and should commence in 2022. Likewise, a huge, $25 million project to improve traffic flow on Memorial Avenue will take place that same year.

 

Fair Assessment

Sitting in the large conference room in the Big E’s administration building, Cassidy reflected on what has been an ultra-challenging 12 months for this regional institution — and what lies ahead, to the extent that he could, obviously.

He said every aspect of this enterprise — from the annual fall fair to the year-round shows that draw visitors from across the Northeast, to the restaurant on the grounds, Storrowton Tavern — have been deeply impacted by the pandemic.

And the hurt is still being felt. The shows slated for weekends in January and February were all canceled, he said, with some, including the huge Western Mass. Home & Garden Show, moved back on the calendar, in this case to August.

The Big E has received some support — nearly $1 million in the first round of PPP, with an application in for the second round of funding. There have been some cutbacks — the workforce has been trimmed from 30 full-time employees to 25 — and those who are left have found themselves with … let’s call them broadened job descriptions.

“Those of us who are still here have had to do jobs we’ve never had to before,” he noted, adding that such tasks include everything from directing traffic for the few events that have been staged to making sure the buildings on the grounds are secure. “Everyone has had to pitch in.”

West Springfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1774
Population: 28,529
Area: 17.5 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $16.90
Commercial Tax Rate: $32.49
Median Household Income: $40,266
Median Family Income: $50,282
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Eversource Energy, Harris Corp., Home Depot, Interim Health Care, Mercy Home Care
* Latest information available

As for the last three quarters of 2021, Cassidy said there are certainly some signs of optimism with his industry. For example, the Canadian government recently gave the green light for the popular Calgary Stampede to take place in June. Meanwhile, the Pasco County Fair in Florida was recently staged, albeit with a number of restrictions and safety precautions in place.

Cassidy took it in while on a trip to Tampa for ‘Florida Week’ and a number of trade association meetings that were staged in-person, which is significant in and of itself, he noted, adding that the main topic of conversation, obviously, was how to stage events safely.

“Interestingly, at the Pasco County Fair, we were there on a Tuesday night, it was chilly, but the fair manager indicated that attendance actually exceeded what it was last year, and he attributed that to the fact that people want to get out,” he recalled. “They want to resume ‘normal,’ and that’s in a state where businesses have been open and Main Street is open.”

But while he can look ahead and try to plan, there are too many question marks to do the latter with any amount of efficacy. These question marks surround everything from what the attendance restrictions will be to whether — and under what conditions — the state buildings can open, to whether individuals and families will be willing to come back out and be part of a mass gathering on the midway or one of the concert venues.

The major consideration is what will be permitted for attendance, said Cassidy, adding that it’s a simple but troubling fact that the costs of operating the fair will be roughly the same whether it’s at full capacity, 50%, or some other number. But the bottom line is that a smaller fair, attendance-wise, is certainly preferable to no fair at all.

“It costs the same to produce the fair for 1.6 million people as it does to produce the fair for one,” he said. “Our staff is preparing a conventional Big E and will try to deliver the product we’re known for.”

Cassidy believes that, as he saw in Florida, there will a significant amount of pent-up demand and that people will want to return to the fairgrounds.

“The common citizen wants their life to return to normal,” he said. “So I think people will come out … they will come back to fair.”

Reichelt agreed, and said the return of the fair this fall, even a smaller fair, will help the region’s economy and, specifically, many of those hospitality-related businesses that have been deeply impacted by the pandemic.

“Having it happen will be good, not only for the Big E, but for the region to bring back that sense of normalcy,” he noted. “And it will be helpful for businesses in the area as they start to recover from all this.”

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Business of Aging Special Coverage

Taking Shots

Rob Whitten, executive director of the Leavitt Family Jewish Home

Rob Whitten, executive director of the Leavitt Family Jewish Home, gets vaccinated in January. For the public, the process has been thornier.

February was the month all seniors in Massachusetts would finally be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Instead, it was a month of frustration.

“It’s simply inexcusable, in a state with the healthcare infrastructure and high-tech reputation we have, that the vaccine rollout was allowed to fall behind every other state so quickly,” state Sen. Eric Lesser told BusinessWest, calling the state’s scheduling website “an obstacle course with all these links and hoops to go through, instead of making it simple, like Travelocity or KAYAK or Open Table.”

That’s when it wasn’t crashing altogether, like it did two weeks ago, when the state opened up vaccine appointments to all individuals 65 and over, as well as individuals age 16 and older with two or more co-morbidities, from a list that includes asthma, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and a host of other conditions.

Later in phase 2, access will roll out to workers in the fields of education, transit, grocery stores, utilities, agriculture, public works, and public health, as well as individuals with one co-morbidity. Phase 3, expected to begin in April, will include everyone else.

Lesser hopes the process — not just to schedule a vaccination, but to get one — improves well before then. One positive was the establishment of a 24/7 call center for the many people who lack internet access (see related story on page 30), something he and dozens of other state lawmakers demanded.

Before that, with online-only signup, “you were locking out whole categories of people,” he noted. As for the website, “it is improving, but it’s still far too confusing and far too hard for people.”

In an address to the public last Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged the frustration around scheduling appointments, but noted that most of it comes down to supply and demand.

“I know how frustrated people are with the pace of the vaccine rollout and how anxious they are to get themselves and their loved ones vaccinated,” he said, but noted that about 450,000 requests for first-dose vaccines arrive each week from hospitals, community health centers, and other entities, but the state receives only 130,000 first doses of vaccine weekly from the federal government.

“We’re putting every dose we get to work each week,” Baker said. “But we don’t receive anywhere near enough vaccine each week from the feds to provide our existing vaccinators with what they request, or to work through most of the currently eligible population that wants a vaccine now. We want people to get vaccinated. We want people to be safe.”

In a hearing with legislators that day, the governor noted that residents have been able to book more than 300,000 appointments through the system despite its flaws, and that Massachusetts is first state in the nation in first doses administered per capita among the 24 states with more than 5 million residents.

While she understands the supply-and-demand issues, Dr. Nahid Bhadelia says the state’s website troubles have still been “a bit of a disappointment.”

While she understands the supply-and-demand issues, Dr. Nahid Bhadelia says the state’s website troubles have still been “a bit of a disappointment.”

State Rep. William Driscoll, the House chairman of the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management, was having none of it. “I just really want to stress that I think you’re missing how broken the system is right now,” he told Baker, “and the approach is not working for the citizens of the Commonwealth. It needs to be addressed.”

Baker’s hopes for more vaccine entering the state may get a boost from Pfizer and Moderna both annoucing plans to double production in March from February’s levels, and by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine nearing emergency authorization.

“They have some very good efficacy data, and they said they’ll deliver another 20 million doses. That’s a one-dose vaccine, so that’s 20 million more people, hopefully, immunized by the end of March,” said Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, infectious-disease physician and medical director of the Special Pathogens Unit at Boston Medical Center, in a Facebook Live conversation with state Sen. Adam Hines, also on Thursday.

Bhadelia understands Baker’s frustration with supply … to a point. “Demand really outweighs supply, still. But last week’s challenges with the website were kind of drastic,” she said. “That was a bit of a disappointment.”

She and Hinds agreed that a waiting list for a vaccine is one thing, but a waiting room just to get on the site is understandably frustrating for people.

However, she also noted some positives, like a movement at the state level toward delivering more doses to pharmacies and local clinics, after perhaps over-emphasizing the mass-vaccination sites (of which Western Mass., to date, hosts only one).

“I’m glad the governor is going back to clinics. We have to get them where people can access them,” Bhadelia said, adding that distribution through doctors’ offices and pharmacies is a tougher organizational challenge, but worth the effort to help people go to providers they trust.

She didn’t deny the website problems, however. “If they try and can’t access it, one day they will give up.”

 

Confidence Boost

And if there’s one thing healthcare professionals don’t want, it’s for people to lose their enthusiasm for getting vaccinated. That’s why the state and various health organizations have rolled out public messaging around the benefits of the vaccine, especially targeting people who might be skeptical of its benefits.

“We recognize it’s a journey, and folks might not feel comfortable with it today, but maybe you’ll feel comfortable tomorrow,” said Lindsey Tucker, associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). “We want to be sure that, when you’re eligible for the vaccine, you can access it when you’re ready for it.”

“Even though you’re vaccinated, you still need to wear a mask, stay six feet apart, avoid crowds, and wash your hands frequently.”

Tucker said those words during a webinar held last month by the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, which also featured input from Dr. Sarah Haessler, lead epidemiologist and infectious-disease specialist at Baystate Health, who has emerged as a leading local voice in public information around COVID-19.

Haessler detailed the amount of data that emerged from clinical trials for the vaccines, and noted that the FDA will approve one only if the expected benefits outweigh potential risks.

“The FDA reviewed all the data — it’s pages and pages and pages of data — around every single thing they did in these clinical trials to be sure of the safety and efficacy of the vaccination,” she said, noting that multiple mechanisms are currently in place to track instances of side effects.

While significant side effects are rare — anaphylaxis is one, which is why individuals receiving the shots must remain at the vaccination site for 15 to 30 minutes — most people experience nothing more than arm soreness, fever, chills, tiredness, and headache; most symptoms fade after a day or two, although they last longer in rare cases. Many people feel no effects at all.

“It’s certainly a lot safer to get the vaccine knowing there are just minor side effects than to take your chances getting infected with COVID-19,” Haessler added. “The more people we vaccinate, the closer we get to herd immunity, and the closer we get to going back to life, where we can see our family and friends and return to pre-pandemic activity.”

Also in February, during the Massachusetts Medical Society’s monthly COVID-19 conference call with DPH physicians, State Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown talked about the DPH’s public vaccine-confidence campaign.

“The campaign recognizes that there are particular populations, especially people of color and other minority populations, that may have understandable increased concern about receiving the vaccine,” Brown said, noting that Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel considers health equity to be a primary priority. “Therefore, DPH is having additional, ongoing conversations about the best ways to try to improve vaccine confidence among some of these groups that are harder to reach.”

At the same time, Haessler was quick to note that the vaccine is not a license to stop doing the things that slow the viral spread. It takes about 10 days for someone to begin developing immunity after the first dose, and full protection doesn’t arrive until about 14 days after the second dose. But it’s still unknown how easily vaccinated individuals can spread the virus to others.

“The bottom line is, even though you’re vaccinated, you still need to wear a mask, stay six feet apart, avoid crowds, and wash your hands frequently,” she explained, noting that vaccination is the last layer of protection, but far from the only one.

It is, of course, a critical one, and that’s a message she continues to spread to those who might be anxious about making an appointment.

“Educate yourself about vaccine safety and talk to trusted sources — your own personal healthcare provider as well as people you know who have been vaccinated,” Haessler said. “Many, many healthcare workers in our community are vaccinated now because we went first.

“I think a lot of our healthcare workers were anxious at first, but as they saw their colleagues getting the vaccine and doing fine with it, they were excited, because now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — there’s some hope that helped bolster confidence in it,” she went on. “The more we know about this, the more people will feel comfortable with it. Knowledge is power.”

 

Better Days?

Bhadelia, who is also an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine and has spoken on CNN and MSNBC about the pandemic, said she’s optimistic about the fact that COVID cases in Massachusetts have been trending down, while acknowledging that testing has also gone down in the Bay State during the vaccine rollout.

Still, she added, “there is a general consensus that it’s not only the testing that’s gone down; it seems there is truly a drop in cases.”

Concern lingers about the COVID-19 variants, which are currently circulating in Massachusetts, particularly the South African variant, which may affect the efficacy of vaccines. But she noted that, even against that variant, vaccination will reduce the risk of severe hospitalization and death.

Taking a federal perspective, Bhadelia also praised the Biden administration’s approach to the vaccine rollout, which she said is science-based and features regular briefings. “The science is always changing, so it’s really great to stay on top of it instead of just guessing at what’s behind the curtain.”

Most Americans, of course, just want to know what’s down the road. So does the governor.

“We want people to turn the corner on COVID, and I can’t tell you how much we would like to see that happen faster,” Baker said. “But to put to work all the folks who are available today to vaccinate our residents and dramatically increase the number of people able to get vaccinated each week here in the Commonwealth, we’re going to need to see a dramatic increase in federal supply coming to Massachusetts.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration launched a $668 million program on Wednesday to provide financial assistance to Massachusetts small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program relies in part on the pending federal COVID-19 relief bill recently passed by the U.S. Congress. Regardless of the developments at the federal level, the Baker-Polito administration will start releasing millions in new funding to restaurants, retailers, and other small businesses throughout the Commonwealth as soon as next week.

Earlier this week, the administration announced nearly $49 million in grants through the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp. (MGCC) COVID-19 Small Business Program to support more than 1,158 small businesses. More than 10,000 applicants had sought relief in this grant round.

Additional grants will be made available to eligible small businesses through MGCC. The Small Business Grant Program was established in the fall and currently has a pool of eligible applicants awaiting funding. This additional funding will allow the administration to award more of those pending applicants. Eligible businesses that already applied to the program, but were not funded due to limited funds available, will be prioritized for funding first and do not need to reapply.

The funds will also be used to stand up an additional grant program at MGCC. This program will target the industries most hard-hit during the pandemic. Eligible industries for the new program include restaurants, bars, and caterers; indoor recreation and entertainment establishments; gyms and fitness centers; event-support professionals (photographers, videographers, etc.); personal services; and retail.

The new business relief program would offer grants up to $75,000, but not more than three months’ operating expenses, to be used for employee wage and benefit costs, space-related costs, and debt-service obligations.

The online application portal for the new program will open on Thursday, Dec. 31, and will close on Friday, Jan. 15. Awards are expected to be announced in early February. More details on how to apply, as well as eligibility requirements, are available at www.empoweringsmallbusiness.org.

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Charlie Christianson

Charlie Christianson says many local businesses have had to pivot and be nimble in the face of COVID-19.

Despite all the challenges a pandemic brings, Mary McNally says, town officials and business leaders in East Longmeadow are looking forward with a sense of optimism.

After serving in an interim role, McNally became East Longmeadow’s permanent town manager in December 2019 — just before every town in America began dealing with the effects of COVID-19.

Even though Town Hall has been closed to the public since mid-March, McNally said the staff has worked hard to maintain town services to the public and keep projects moving.

“All of our Planning Department functions, such as petitions and site-plan reviews, are being conducted — business as usual,” McNally said. “That is, if you accept Zoom meetings as business as usual.”

According to Charlie Christianson, those types of adjustments have enabled the town and its businesses to find their way during these difficult times. Christianson, board president of the East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce, said COVID-19 forced a number of companies to pivot and find new ways to stay viable. He cited Go Graphix, maker of signs, vehicle wraps, and other marketing materials, as an example of an East Longmeadow company that made a big adjustment and found success by doing so.

“When business fell off at the beginning of the pandemic, Go Graphix pivoted early to make plexiglass partitions as well as signs to help communicate social distancing and mask wearing. Now, it’s a big part of their business.”

In addition to his work with the chamber, Christianson runs CMD Technology Group, a provider of IT solutions and support. With so many people working from home, his business was able to pivot to set up workers who needed remote connections.

“We have seen a lot of activity in our remote-access business where we help companies get their remote employees into their online system in an effective and secure way,” he explained.

“All of our Planning Department functions, such as petitions and site-plan reviews, are being conducted — business as usual. That is, if you accept Zoom meetings as business as usual.”

Chamber member Steve Graham, CEO of Toner Plastics, said several of the products his company makes are considered essential, a designation that kept his workers busy all year. Perhaps the most notable product Toner makes these days is the elastic for N95 masks.

“Since the pandemic, you can imagine the demand for that product went through the roof,” Graham said, adding that, during a time when other companies were cutting back due to COVID-19, his company had to quickly ramp up for more production.

With Toner facilities in Pittsfield and Rhode Island, as well as in East Longmeadow, Graham appreciates the opportunity to continue his operations during these challenging times. “We’re fortunate that we are able to keep people employed and continue to ship to our customers; best of all, none of our employees have been inflicted with COVID-19.”

 

Go with the Flow

Despite the pandemic, municipal projects in East Longmeadow keep moving. The town applied for a $600,000 grant through MassWorks to improve sewage outflow where it connects to the Springfield system, allowing East Longmeadow to more accurately monitor what gets sent to Springfield.

“While it’s not a glamourous project, it’s a big undertaking and represents a real improvement in our town’s infrastructure,” McNally said.

After years of applying to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, East Longmeadow is in the eligibility period to explore funding for a new high school. McNally said this milestone is significant because it represents the first step in the process to eventually replace the current, 60-year old facility.

For many years, residents have been concerned about the site of the former Package Machinery site, with any potential development hampered by its industrial zoning status. McNally said the Town Council and the Planning Board have recently taken action to change the zoning status to mixed use, which would allow residential as well as commercial buildings to locate there.

“While no official project is in front of the Town Council, one development that has been discussed could include single-family homes, condominiums, apartments, and light-use business entities,” McNally said. “The idea is to have a new walkable neighborhood near the bike trail and the center of town.”

To keep projects like these moving forward, McNally and her staff are working to develop a new master plan for East Longmeadow. The last master plan for the town dates back to 1976, prompting her to put this effort high on the must-do list. The first phase of the plan is scheduled to be complete by June 2021.

A master plan allows the town to move from talking about projects to getting them done. One example is Heritage Park, where architect drawings were generated in 2016 to add athletic fields, an amphitheater, and other improvements. The $5 million price tag has kept the redevelopment in the discussion stage.

McNally said including Heritage Park in the master plan improves its chances of eventually reaching completion. “It’s a beautiful resource, and we want to capitalize on it to make the park available to everyone, but right now it’s still a work in progress.”

“We have seen a lot of activity in our remote-access business where we help companies get their remote employees into their online system in an effective and secure way.”

During the pandemic, the chamber has been successful in bringing people together to talk about the challenges of COVID-19 and a variety of business topics. Christianson credits the chamber’s ability to quickly embrace the virtual world.

“To say we didn’t skip a beat would be an exaggeration, but we’ve done a pretty good job to help our members and to keep a consistent value proposition for them.”

He noted that the chamber has even found a way to keep the popular Feast in the East event going. Traditionally, this is a networking event in which members sample food from area restaurants while local chefs compete for the Top Chef Trophy.

“This year’s event will be like the show Iron Chef, with three local chefs competing in front of judges,” he explained. Offered as a paid Zoom event, ticket purchasers can watch the competition and receive a ‘takeout’ package of offers from local restaurants. “Through creative thought and hard work, the chamber found another way to still run this popular event.”

 

Here’s the Scoop

One of the real strengths of East Longmeadow, according to Christianson, is the healthy mix of residential and business interests. One intriguing project scheduled to open next year involves the train depot built in 1876 and located in the center of town.

Earlier this year, Graham bought the train depot and the three acres where it sits. He is in the process of converting it into an ice-cream shop called the Depot at Graham Central Station.

“Even though there have been a lot of delays due to COVID, we are finishing up the conversion, and we’re looking forward to opening the depot for the town to enjoy next spring,” he said. Because of its close proximity to the bike path, he hopes to open in the morning and offer light breakfast items, too.

While the anticipation of a new ice-cream shop in town is certainly something to look forward to, Graham said he’s anticipating even bigger news on many fronts.

As a plastics manufacturer, he works with industries as far-ranging as aerospace and automotive to medical devices and retail displays. “We are affected by many of these industries, and when they were down, it had an impact on us,” hs said.

But recent conversations with his customers reveals that many industries are starting to come back, and come back strong. “I have a great deal of optimism for the future.”

Technology

Career Connections

To celebrate Massachusetts STEM Week, Oct. 19-23, Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) announced a week-long series of events.

STEM Week 2020 is organized by the Executive Office of Education and the STEM Advisory Council in partnership with the state’s nine regional STEM networks. It is a statewide effort to boost the interest, awareness, and ability for all learners to envision themselves in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and employment opportunities.

The theme for the third annual statewide STEM Week is “See Yourself in STEM,” with a particular focus on the power of mentoring.

Barbara Washburn, interim dean of the School of STEM at STCC, said the initiative represents an opportunity to learn about interesting and exciting real-world applications of STEM.

“We’re thrilled to participate in STEM Week again this year. We have several engaging live and recorded virtual events planned,” Washburn said. “As the only technical community college in Massachusetts, STCC is known for its high-quality STEM programs, and this is a chance to showcase them.

“We invite our students and the general public to participate in these free events,” she went on. “We particularly encourage people who are underrepresented in STEM to join us. They include women, people of color, first-generation students, low-income individuals, English-language learners, and people with disabilities. We want to show how everyone can see themselves in STEM.”

The following events will be held live through Zoom videoconferencing. For more information and to register, visit stcc.edu/stem-week.

 

• Monday, Oct. 19, 11 a.m. to noon: “Farming While Black: Uprooting Racism, Seeding Sovereignty.” Naima Penniman, program director of Soul Fire Farm, will give a talk about the importance and value of food production. The presentation will explore racism in food distribution, access, and other related topics. This is a collaborative event with HSI STEM, the Officer of Multicultural Affairs, the School of STEM, and the Urban Studies program.

 

• Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2-3 p.m.: “Know Where Your Food Comes From.” Speakers include Ibrahim Ali, co-director of Gardening the Community; Dr. Raja Staggers, assistant professor of sociology; and Jose Lopez-Figueroa, director of the Center for Access Services. The event features a panel discussion on the importance of food security, the prevalence of food deserts in our inner cities, the need to know where food comes from, and food access within the Greater Springfield community. This is a collaborative event with HSI STEM, Multicultural Affairs, the School of STEM, and the Urban Studies program.

 

• Wednesday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m. to noon: “Virtual STEM Careers Symposium.” Hosted by the STEM Starter Academy at STCC, this event features UMass Amherst professors and STEM industry leaders who will participate in an interactive symposium on STEM pathways and careers.

 

• Friday, Oct. 23, 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.: Dell Technologies will host a webinar about employees’ experience with the company.

STEM Week will also feature recorded presentations featuring faculty in specific STEM programs. The following are planned:

• Physics: “The Science of Sports and the Engineering Behind Sports Equipment.”

• Engineering: “Computer Application in Engineering”.

• Optics and Photonics: “What is Optics & Photonics?”

• Math: “The Mathematics Behind Bin Packing.”

• Manufacturing: “Extreme Precision: Splitting Hairs on a CNC Machine and Measuring Them in the Metrology Lab,” and a video created at Governors America Corp., an electronics manufacturer in Agawam.

• Robotics: A demonstration of a Fanuc robot functioning as a pill sorter with programmable logic controllers.

• Computers/IT: “What is Computer Systems Engineering Technology?”

 

While there is a concentration of events planned for STEM Week, STCC offers STEM-themed discussion and presentation for students and the public throughout the year. In early October, STCC STEM Starter Academy joined students and researchers from UMass Amherst, Florida International University, and other universities and organizations from across the globe as part of the International Assoc. for the Study of the Commons (IASC) Global Symposium on Commons Without Borders: Global Multiscale Ecosystem Frameworks. A playlist of the symposium’s presentations is available on STCC’s YouTube channel.

 

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith says getting town business done during COVID-19 has been more challenging than usual, but projects continue to be approved.

Wilbraham is a mostly residential town with two main business districts — the town center, as it’s known, on Main Street, and along a lengthy stretch of Route 20, or Boston Road.

The fact that both have seen development activity during the ongoing pandemic is good news indeed, said Jeffrey Smith, chairman of the Planning Board.

Take, for example, a couple of vacant buildings next to Home Depot that have been vacant for about a decade. They will soon become a 7,000-square-foot O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store and a 2,340-square-foot Valvoline instant oil-change facility.

“It’s great,” Smith said. “Being on the Planning Board and being a resident in town, I hear from people all the time, in casual converations, ‘what’s going on with that place?’ This is one of those vacant and seemingly abandoned properties that is getting a great redo, and I think it’s going to be a welcome addition. The site has been an eyesore for some time.”

Then there’s the former Papa Gino’s restaurant near the Springfield line that’s been vacant several years, but will soon be home to an expansion of Springfield-based Vanguard Dental. Meanwhile, Excel Therapy and Conditioning, a physical-therapy practice that’s expanding to sports rehabilitation and personal training, will set up shop on Boston Road as well.

“We had to work fast to fast-track this during the height of the pandemic, with Town Hall closed,” recalled John Pearsall, director of Planning. “They were in a situation where their lease was running out and they had a chance to purchase this building and move and expand their practice. That’s been a good success story, saving a local business during these difficult times.”

Doing due diligence on development projects hasn’t been easy with offices closed, Smith noted.

“Just like every other town, we’re dealing with COVID, and all Planning and Zoning board meetings have to be done remotely. John and I used to meet quite a bit more in person during the week and outside our regularly scheduled meetings, and we do a little less of that right now. Everything has become more cumbersome, with a lot of extra steps.”

“For a long time, residents in the center of town have complained that it’s a little sleepy, and they want to have more activity there. We’re finally getting some actual development and change. The project will be a real catalyst for the center of town.”

Yet, important work continues, including efforts by the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Health, and licensing authorities to get restaurants reopened in recent months.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to help our businesses stay afloat during these difficult times,” Pearsall said. “And they seem to be very active. I think people are happy to have that option, whether it’s curbside pickup or being able to go out and have a meal outside the home. That’s a big thing for people these days.”

As the town continues to develop a Route 20 renovation plan — including widening driving lanes, adding sidewalks and bike lanes, and more — business continue to see it as an attractive destination, Smith and Pearsall said. That bodes well for 2021, when the process of getting anything permitted in town — and, let’s be honest, life in general — promises to be slightly easier.

Center of Activity

Most schools throughout Western Mass. are currently teaching students remotely. But not Wilbraham & Monson Academy, which launched an ambitious plan earlier this year — including everything from reconfiguring buildings to implementing strict safety guidelines — to bring students back to campus.

“We worked extensively as a town with WMA to reopen and allow students back,” Smith said, recalling Head of School Brian Easler working the Planning Board, Board of Health, and Board of Selectmen to produce a comprehensive plan to get students back safely for in-person learning. “I was surprised at the lengths they went and the protocols they put in place to get reopened.”

The town had a stake in the plan that went beyond what was best for students and their families, Pearsall said. “We were happy to see them open because they provide a real anchor to the town center.”

It’s a center that has long been the subject of speculation. Two years ago, an effort to allow a mixed-use development in the area of Main and Springfield streets failed to garner the necessary two-thirds approval at a town meeting, falling short by about a dozen votes. Since then, town officials have struggled to balance the need to fill vacant buildings with general pushback when it comes to change.

Currently, two vacant buildings at the corner of Main Street and Burt Lane have been slated for demolition and development, Smith said.

“We’ve been working at least the last two years with the owner of the property and getting something viable in place for those buildings,” he told BusinessWest. “If everything goes as planned, that will be a major change in the way the town center looks. The owner of the property has worked extensively with us and other committees and boards in town to come up with a design concept that would fit in with the town center.

“It’s a very sensitive area; it’s looked the way it has for quite some time,” he added. “This is a new use on this spot — mixed-use development, with retail on the ground floor and apartments on the second floor. Actually, it’s bringing in an old use. At one point, a hotel stood on this spot. So we’re bringing residential use back, and resurrecting something that was done years ago.”

Wilbraham at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1763
Population: 14,868
Area: 22.4 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $22.38
Commercial Tax Rate: $22.38
Median Household Income: $65,014
Median Family Income: $73,825
Type of government: Board of Selectmen, Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Wilbraham Medical Center; Friendly Ice Cream Corp.; Big Y; Home Depot; Wilbraham & Monson Academy
*Latest information available

Some folks in the neighborhood are open to change, Pearsall said. “For a long time, residents in the center of town have complained that it’s a little sleepy, and they want to have more activity there. We’re finally getting some actual development and change. The project will be a real catalyst for the center of town.”

The former post office on Crane Park Drive recently changed ownership and could be repurposed as commercial office space, he added, while a new cosmetology business, Inner Glow Skin Studio, is moving in. Meanwhile, the old Masonic Hall on Woodland Dell Road was purchased by a local resident who is converting it to office space for his dental-management business.

“We’re taking a property that was tax-exempt and putting it back on the tax rolls,” Smith added.

Also along Main Street, Rice’s Fruit Farm and adjoining Fern Valley Farms have been enjoying a strong year, with pick-your-own-apples business boosted by cooperative weather and families looking for something to do. In fact, Rice’s has been working with town Planning and Zoning officials on parking expansions to accommodate the enterprise’s growth.

“It’s been very successful,” Smith said, adding that a parking crunch is, in one sense, a good problem to have. “They’re kind of taking the next step.”

Developing Stories

Wilbraham also has two solar farms under construction, a 1.4-MW project on Tinkham Road and a 3.4-MW project on Beebe Road; the latter development straddles the Hampden town line, with another 2 MW available for that community.

Another development in the works is part of a ‘community compact’ to identify and explore the potential for expanding municipal fiber along Boston Road to determine how that might impact business opportunities.

“There’s a need for fiber and high-speed internet,” Smith said. “We moved some time ago to be a municipal light plant, which means we can essentially be a supplier of high-speed internet.”

“There’s a broadband committee, being coordinated by our IT director, to move that project forward,” Pearsall added.

Residential growth advances slowly in a small town, but some trends have emerged. Even before COVID-19 struck, Pearsall noted, more people were starting to work from home.

“We’ve seen a lot more interest and activity from people trying to do home-based businesses,” he said. “We’ve also seen a lot of interest in so-called in-law apartments in town, and we have zoning for that, where elderly parents own a home and want their children to live with them, or the children own the home and create an apartment for their parents. That seems very popular right now.”

It’s another way times are changing and town leaders must adapt — in a year when they’ve certainly had plenty of practice.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Punching Back

Peter Picknelly, left, and Andy Yee

Peter Picknelly, left, and Andy Yee are partnering in a restaurant project at the former Court Square Hotel property.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno noted that his city is certainly well-versed in dealing with natural and man-made disasters — everything from the tornado in June 2011 to the natural-gas explosion a year and a half later.

“Battle-tested” was the phrase he used to describe a community that has been though a lot over the past few decades.

But the COVID-19 pandemic … this is a different kind of disaster.

The new façade of the Tower Square Hotel, which expects to be under the Marriott flag next spring.

“It’s like shadow boxing in a lot of ways,” he said, using that phrase to essentially describe a foe that’s hard to hit and an exercise that amounts to punching air. “With those other disasters, I knew what hit us, and I knew how to jab back; with COVID-19, we don’t know when it’s going to go away, and we don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

But the city is certainly punching back against the pandemic, said the mayor and Tim Sheehan, the city’s chief Development officer, noting that it has undertaken initiatives aimed at everything from helping small businesses keep the doors open to assisting residents with paying their mortgage, rent, and utility bills.

And while the pandemic has certainly cost the city some vital momentum, the development community, which usually takes a long view, remains bullish on the city, said Sheehan, noting that there has been strong interest in projects ranging from the former School Department headquarters building on State Street to properties in the so-called ‘blast zone’ (damaged by that aforementioned natural-gas explosion), to buildings in the general vicinity of MGM Springfield in the city’s South End.

“One of more positive things we’re seeing is that development interest in Springfield remains strong,” he told BusinessWest. “And for some larger-scale projects, it’s new interest, from outside the area. And that bodes well for the whole effort that’s been made in terms of the downtown renaissance and the casino development; the development community’s message on Springfield is a good one.”

In the meantime, some projects are already moving forward, most notably the conversion of the long-dormant former Court Square Hotel into apartments and retail space, but also the extensive renovations (although that’s not the word being used) at the Tower Square Hotel in anticipation of regaining the Marriott flag that long flew over the facility, the new Wahlburger’s restaurant going up next to MGM Springfield, the new White Lion Brewery in Tower Square, the conversion of the former Willys-Overland building on Chestnut Street into market-rate housing, movement to reinvent the Eastfield Mall, a plan to redevelop Apremont Triangle, and much more.

But despite these projects, and despite the mayor’s confidence that the city will rebound quickly once the pandemic eases, there are certainly concerns about what toll the pandemic will take on existing businesses, especially those in retail, hospitality, and the commercial real-estate sector — specifically, the office towers downtown.

Mayor Domenic Sarno

Mayor Domenic Sarno says he’s confident that the city can make a strong — and quick — rebound from COVID-19.

There is strong speculation that businesses that now have some or most employees working remotely will continue with these arrangements after the pandemic eases, leaving many likely looking for smaller office footprints. Sheehan noted that such potential downsizing might be offset by businesses needing larger spaces for each employee in a world where social distancing might still be the norm, but there is certainly concern that the office buildings that dominate the downtown landscape will need to find new tenants or new uses for that space.

“There’s some conflicting data out there — the average size of a typical commercial office lease was going down prior to COVID, and a big reason was the rise of the communal working space,” he explained. “Well, now, the communal working space isn’t working so well anymore; there are some impacts that are forcing companies to require more space, not less.

“It’s like shadow boxing in a lot of ways. With those other disasters, I knew what hit us, and I knew how to jab back; with COVID-19, we don’t know when it’s going to go away, and we don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

“Still, before COVID, the vacancy rate for commercial real estate was somewhat high,” he went on. “We collectively need to be working with the building owners and businesses to make sure those numbers don’t exacerbate as we come out of COVID. But, clearly, there is concern about the commercial real-estate market.”

For this, the latest installment in BusinessWest’s Community Spotlight series, the focus turns to the unofficial capital of the region, the current battle against COVID-19 and the many forms it takes, and the outlook for the future, both short- and long-term.

View to the Future

As he walked around the former Court Square Hotel while talking with BusinessWest about his involvement with the project to give the landmark a new life, Peter A. Picknelly pointed to the windows in the northwest corner of the sixth floor, and noted that this was where a City Hall employee had just told him she wanted to live as he and business partner Andy Yee were leaving a meeting with the mayor.

But then he quickly corrected himself.

“No, she was referring to that corner,” he noted, pointing toward the windows on the northeast side, the ones with a better overall view of Court Square and Main Street. “That’s the one she said she wanted.”

Talk about actually living in the still-handsome structure that dominates Court Square is now actually real, whereas for the better part of 30 years it had been nothing but a pipe dream. That’s how long people have been talking about renovating this property, and that’s how challenging this initiative has been.

Indeed, like Union Station, another project that took decades to finally move beyond the talk stage, Court Square’s redevelopment became real because of a public-private partnership with a number of players, ranging from Picknelly’s Opal Development and WinnCompanies to MGM Springfield, to the city, the state, and federal government.

“This project was a bear, and that building was an albatross around the neck of a lot of mayors,” Sarno said. “This was all about persistence and not giving up when it would have been easy to do that.”

As for Picknelly, this is a legacy project of a sort, he said, noting that his father, Peter L. Picknelly, had long talked about creating a boutique hotel at the site — which, after its days as a hotel, was home to a number of law offices because of its proximity to the courthouse — as a way to inject some life into a still-struggling downtown.

Chief Development Officer Tim Sheehan

Chief Development Officer Tim Sheehan says the city’s first priority has been to assist businesses and help ensure they’re still in business when the pandemic eases.

The boutique-hotel concept became less viable as new hotels were built in the city, he went on, but the urgent need to convert the property for a new use — identified as the top priority in the Urban Land Institute study completed more than a decade ago — remained.

“How can Springfield really see its full potential if this building is vacant?” asked Picknelly, who again partnered with Yee — the two have resurrected both the Student Prince and the White Hut — to create a restaurant in the northwest corner of the property (more on that in a bit). “This is going to be the centerpiece of Springfield’s renaissance.”

The Court Square project is just one example of how things are moving forward in the city, even in the midst of the pandemic, said Sheehan, noting that, in the larger scheme of things, Springfield remains an attractive target for the development community — and for the same reasons that existed before the pandemic, namely an abundance of opportunities, growing momentum in the central business district, the casino, Union Station, the burgeoning cannabis industry, and more.

Still, the the pandemic has certainly been a major disruptive force in that it has imperiled small businesses across many sectors, especially hospitality; brought a relative stillness to the downtown area as many employees continue to work at home; closed the casino for nearly four months and forced it to reopen at one-third capacity; cancelled all shows, sports, and other gatherings at the casino, the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, and elsewhere; and even forced the Basketball Hall of Fame to reschedule its induction ceremonies (normally held this month) to the spring and move them to Mohegan Sun.

So the first order of business for the city has been to try to control, or limit, the damage, said Sarno and Sheehan, adding that it has been doing this in a number of ways, including its Prime the Pump initiative.

The Court Square project

The Court Square project, roughly 30 years in the making, was made possible by a comprehensive public-private partnership.

The program, using Community Development Block Grant monies, has provided small grants to city businesses in amounts up to $15,000. The awards have come over several rounds, with the first focused on restaurants, perhaps the hardest-hit individual sector, with subsequent rounds having a broader focus that includes more business sectors and nonprofits. Sheehan said businesses receiving grant funds have also represented a diversity of ownership.

“Prime the Pump numbers in terms of minority representation were huge — more than 72% of the awards were to minority-owned, women-owned, or veterans, and all of the nonprofits we supported had 30% or more minority participation on their board of directors,” he explained, adding that these numbers are significant because many minority-owned businesses had difficulty attaining other forms of support, such as Paycheck Protection Program loans.

In addition to helping businesses weather the storm, the city has also provided financial assistance to residents, said the mayor, noting that this aid has gone toward paying mortgages, utility bills, and rent, assistance that also helps the city’s many landlords.

“In this region, I don’t think any community has done more to help their businesses and their residents,” Sarno noted. “We have put out well over $5 million, and perhaps $6 million. We’ve been very proactive, and we’re going to continue working with businesses, such as our restaurants, to help them stay open.”

Such support is critical, said Sheehan, because in order to rebound sufficiently once the pandemic subsides, consumers will need to find outlets for that pent-up demand the mayor mentioned.

“How can Springfield really see its full potential if this building is vacant? This is going to be the centerpiece of Springfield’s renaissance.”

“When there is a vaccine, or when our numbers are so low that people feel safe and feel willing to go back out, the responsiveness will be there,” he noted. “My concern is making sure that the businesses we have are still in business when we get there.”

When We Meet Again

While he talked about COVID-19 using mostly the present tense, Sarno also spent a good deal of time talking about the future.

He said the pandemic will — eventually and somehow — relent. And, as he said earlier, he is confident the city will rebound, and quickly, and perhaps return to where it was before ‘COVID’ became part of the lexicon. For a reference point, he chose Red Sox Winter Weekend in January, an event staged by the team but hosted by MGM Springfield. It brought thousands of people to the city, filling hotels and restaurants and creating traffic jams downtown as motorists tried to maneuver around closed streets and various gatherings.

In many ways, Red Sox Winter Weekend is emblematic of all that’s been lost due to the pandemic. It won’t all come back overnight, Sarno and Sheehan noted, but the vibrancy will return.

“COVID-19 has really knocked us for a bit of a loop,” the mayor said, stating the obvious. “But I think there there’s a lot of pent-up … not only frustration, but desire to get back out there, so when we defeat this, I really think we’re going to rebound very nicely, and even quickly, because we continue to move projects forward and put new projects on the board.”

Tower Square Hotel

These renderings show what the front lobby (above) and ballroom will look like in the Tower Square Hotel that is being ‘reimagined’ and ‘redesigned’ and will soon be flying the Marriott flag.

This optimism extends to MGM, which had been struggling to meet projections (made years ago) for gross gambling revenue before the pandemic, and has, as noted, been operating at one-third capacity since early summer, with the hotel and banquet facilities closed.

“When MGM was hustling and bustling, with shows coming in, downtown was thriving,” Sarno said. “I’m hoping that, as we head into the last quarter and eventually the holiday season, if people can regain their confidence in going out to places like this, we see things pick up.”

And there will be some positive changes to greet visitors as they return, starting with a new Marriott.

Indeed, work continues on a massive project that Peter Marks, general manager of the hotel, insists is not a renovation, because that word doesn’t do justice to the massive overhaul. He instead said the hotel has been “reimagined” and “redesigned.”

Indeed, slated to open — or reopen, as the case may be — next spring or summer, the 266-room facility is getting a new look from top to bottom, inside and out. The most visible sign of the change is a new, more modern façade that greets visitors coming over the Memorial Bridge. But the entire hotel is being made over to new and stringent standards set by Marriott.

“This is not a reflagging; it’s a new build, and that’s why the work is so extensive,” he explained. “Everything that that a guest could see or touch is being replaced. Beyond that, we’ve moved walls, we’ve moved emergency staircases in the building to accomplish higher ceilings … it’s impressive what has been done.”

The timing of the project — during the middle of a pandemic — has been beneficial in one respect: there was minimal displacement of guests due to the ongoing work and, therefore, not a significant loss of overall business. But the pandemic has also been a hindrance because it’s made getting needed construction materials much more difficult, causing delays in the work and uncertainty about when it can all be completed.

“You might get a shower wall in, but not the shower tub,” Marks explained. “And you can’t do the wall without the tub, so you have to wait, and this happens all the time. If everything goes smoothly from here, it might be April when we reopen, or it could also be summer.”

By then, he thinks the world, and downtown Springfield, will look considerably different, and there will be a considerable amount of pent-up demand.

“Especially for the leisure travelers,” he said. “People are really itching to get out; they’re all waiting to go somewhere, and also go to events, weddings, family reunions, and other celebrations. I’m hopeful that we’ll be opening right when the pent-up demand is coming.”

As for the restaurant planned for the Court Square property, Picknelly and Yee project it will be open for business by the fall of 2022, and that, when it does debut, it will be an important addition to a downtown that may look somewhat different, but will likely still be a destination and a place people not only want to visit, but live in.

“Winn has done 100 renovation projects like this around the country,” Picknelly said. “They are 100% convinced that this building will be fully occupied by the time we open — there’s no doubt in their minds, based on the projections. I think that says a lot about people still wanting to live in urban areas, and I think it says a lot about Springfield and what people think of this city.”

Fighting Spirit

Returning to his analogy about shadow boxing, Sarno said COVID-19 has certainly proven to be a difficult sparring partner.

Unlike the tornado, which passed through quickly and left a trail of destruction to be cleaned up, COVID has already lingered far longer than most thought it would, and no one really knows for sure how much longer we’ll be living with it.

Meanwhile, as for the damage it will cause, there is simply no way of knowing that, either, and the toll creeps higher with each passing week.

But, as the mayor noted, the city is already punching back, and it intends to keep on punching with the goal of regaining the momentum it has lost and turning back the clock — even if it’s only six or seven months.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Berkshire County Special Coverage

Delivering the Message

A team from Graphic Impact Signs installs a sign for Berkshire Bank.

A team from Graphic Impact Signs installs a sign for Berkshire Bank.

John Renzi says that, when the pandemic arrived in mid-March, the sign industry, like most all others, was hit hard.

Indeed, as a sector that has always been a good barometer of the economy and one that suffers greatly during downturns, the sign business was impacted by the pandemic in a number of ways, said Renzi, a principal and account executive with Pittsfield-based Graphic Impact Signs (GIS). He listed everything from the prompt shutdown of the events, sports, and entertainment industries and a halt to orders from those solid customers, to disruptions in the supply chain that have hindered many players in this large and diverse field from completing orders they do have.

GIS has certainly not been immune from any of this, said Renzi, but he believes the company acquired by his father 33 years ago has fared better than most because of the two traits that have defined it from the beginning: flexibility and resiliency.

They have been displayed in everything from how the company has pivoted and started making new lines of products, such as the plexiglass barriers now seen in all kinds of businesses, to how it has maneuvered its way through those supply-chain issues by working with suppliers and stockpiling essential materials that are now in very short supply.

Regarding those barriers, or shields, the company tacked in that direction as the business world paused and sign work all but stopped as the pandemic arrived, he noted, and very quickly had product moving out the doors of the Pittsfield plant.

“We had the equipment, and we had the supply,” he told BusinessWest. “So we were able to move from idea to prototype to our first order, which was a $138,000 order, in seven working days. That’s the flexibility we have, and it has allowed us to be successful.”

That same flexibility is effectively serving the company as it transitions back to making signage, said Dan Renzi, John’s brother and partner, especially when it comes to supply-chain issues.

“Many of our suppliers just stopped delivering for quite some time, and then, when they started up again, the manufacturers just could not get the product to us,” he explained, referring specifically to the white polycarbonate needed in most sign projects. Working with existing and new suppliers, GIS has been able to stockpile and warehouse this essential product while some competitors are waiting for what could be three or four months to get what they need.

Thus, the company is well-positioned, even in the middle of a pandemic, to broaden an already-impressive portfolio that includes clients such as Big Y, General Dynamics, and a host of banks and credit unions, especially those installing interactive teller machines (ITMs).

GIS has become an industry leader in making the surrounds, or canopies (see photo, page XX), for these devices, and it is now making them for Berkshire Bank, PeoplesBank, Country Bank, bankESB, and several other institutions.

“The ATMS are on their way out, and the ITMs are moving in,” John noted. “More banks are expanding into this because it’s clearly the future, and we’re one of the leaders in making signage and surrounds for these ITMs.”

Dan Renzi, left, and his brother, John, stand in front of a new sign made for Big Y.

Dan Renzi, left, and his brother, John, stand in front of a new sign made for Big Y.

This status, coupled with the company’s flexibility and its ability to work with clients to design, develop, and install signage that is indeed impactful, has it very well-positioned for the future.

“Over the years, we’ve seen people come in with, literally, something scribbled on a piece of paper,” said Dan, explaining how GIS is involved with the client from start to finish. “We’ll take things from that really rough sketch to a complete, finished product all in one building; we can take a dream and turn it into reality.”

For this issue and its focus on Berkshire County, BusinessWest turns its lens on GIS and how it has been able to use its flexibility and resiliency to not only ride out the pandemic, but take new and meaningful steps forward.

More Signs of Progress

It’s not an official indicator of how a sign business, or any other business, for that matter, is faring. But the Renzi brothers consider it one, and they’re quite proud of it.

They were referring to how signs that have the company’s name on it — albeit in small letters that you probably wouldn’t notice (although the brothers do) — have shown up in some recent movies and TV series coming out of Hollywood.

“We had the equipment, and we had the supply. So we were able to move from idea to prototype to our first order, which was a $138,000 order, in seven working days.”

“That’s pretty cool when you’re sitting there at a movie, either on Netflix or on the big screen, and you see one of your signs,” said John, noting that some of the company’s installations have become backdrops recently in the movies Knives Out and Behind the Woods, and the true-crime TV series Dirty John.

These recent on-screen appearances are merely the latest … well, signs of continued growth and prosperity for a company that has been part of the landscape in the Berkshires for more than 60 years. Known first as Alfie Sign Co., the business caught the eye of John Renzi Sr., a painter whose portfolio was dominated by commercial clients at a time when Pittsfield was certainly seeing its fortunes wane as its main employer, General Electric, was closing its massive complex.

“GE was moving out, and his painting business was commercial business only,” said John Jr. “So when you had large businesses moving out of Pittsfield, he was trying to set up a future for my brother and me.”

The company had a solid reputation and an impressive client list, he went on, noting that it had created signs for Fayva Shoes, Subway — it was involved in the first-generation logo for that chain — and D’Angelo’s, among others. But it wasn’t exactly well-run.

“He knew that things needed change — it was a dollar-in, dollar-out company, and it had its challenges; it took a while to get the company on its feet,” John went on, adding that his father brought some discipline and direction to the venture and put it on more solid ground, with the intention of eventually passing it on to the next generation. Which he did, but not before that generation was fully prepared to lead.

One of the many ITM canopies

One of the many ITM canopies that GIS is making for a growing list of bank clients

“Dad didn’t just hand over the business — he wanted to make sure we could handle it,” said John, noting that he and Dan officially became owners five years ago, but they’ve been managing it for the past 15. “And he did it right — we learned right from the bottom, cleaning toilets, sweeping floors, counting bolts, and getting dirty.”

In recent years, the company has, perhaps without knowing it, steeled itself against downturns — and, yes, even a pandemic — by broadening and diversifying the portfolio of clients and creating a culture grounded in the flexibility and nimbleness noted earlier.

Which brings us back to March, and the arrival of COVID-19.

“We had some really good things moving in the right direction right at the beginning of the year,” John said. “We had a good winter, things were lining up well, and we were really excited about this year.

“But when COVID hit, it hit with a jolt,” he went on. “We weren’t certain what was going to happen or how we were going about things, but if there’s one thing that my brother and I believe in — pre-COVID, during COVID, or post-COVID — it’s that, the more flexible you are as a business, the more successful you can make yourself. And what we found is that, due to our flexibility with working with our supply chain and working with our clients, we were able to manage this crisis effectively.

One of the best examples of this flexibility was the company’s ability to pivot and begin making the plexiglass shields now seen in restaurants, banks, retail outlets, and countless other businesses.

“We reached out to suppliers and started ordering clear acrylic, clear polycarbonate, and started making these custom guards that could be adapted for bank-teller lanes, tabletops, and other uses,” Dan explained, noting that GIS made this adjustment as a way to bring employees back to work after the pandemic hit and sign work ground to a near-halt. “There was a little bit of a learning curve, but overall, it was an almost seamless transition.”

John agreed, noting that the company didn’t have to make any additional investments or find any new suppliers.

“It was just a matter of quickly training employees to make shields instead of signage,” he said, noting that, while GIS is still making these shields for a few hospitals and office buildings, it is increasingly turning its focus back to making signs.

A Bright Future

While many sectors of the economy have slowed because of the pandemic, there are still growth opportunities for companies positioned to take advantage of them, said John, noting that banks, with the emergence of the ITM, clearly represent one of those opportunities.

A new sign the company created for General Dynamics.

A new sign the company created for General Dynamics.

He noted that banks were already moving in this direction, and the pandemic, which closed bank lobbies for months and all but forced customers to use drive-up windows for most all transactions, has only accelerated the process.

“Banks are adding them at their branches, and we’ve also seen an increase in free-standing ITMs that are not at branches,” he explained. “Chase Bank is the first one to do this; they’re looking to close 1,000 locations — downtown locations that don’t have drive-up service — and buy remote sites just outside cities, and put up these free-standing ITMs.

“We’re one of the few companies in the United States building these free-standing ITM canopies,” he went on. “It’s a very interesting development and a great opportunity for us, and we saw it happening pre-COVID; it’s 100% the future.”

As for the future of the sign business … that picture is certainly not as clear, said the brothers Renzi, noting, again, that the pandemic has hit this sector very hard, and there was already a good deal of consolidation before COVID-19 arrived as Baby Boomers retired and sold their ventures to employees or larger players from outside the region.

And since the pandemic, some of the smaller players have closed down, they said, noting they didn’t have the wherewithal to withstand the loss of business and the many other challenges that visited the industry. And many mid-sized companies have struggled with everything from retaining employees to finding the materials they need to complete orders.

GIS, again, is not immune from these challenges, but it certainly seems well-positioned to not only survive but thrive in the post-COVID world.

If you look closely — and you don’t even have to look closely — you can see the signs.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

While communities nationwide continue to grapple with what he calls the “grumpy cloud” of COVID-19, Westfield Mayor Donald Humason is looking to project a little sunshine.

“A lot of it has to do with the attitude in Westfield,” the mayor said. “We’re optimistic, and we want people to come to our community because it’s a great place to live, work, go to school, and run a business.” 

Kate Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, agreed, and wants everyone to know Westfield is open for business.

Kate Phelon

Kate Phelon says the Greater Westfield Chamber remains strong and active, and has even welcomed some new members.

While the chamber remains strong with more than 5,000 members, two new businesses have recently joined. Play Now, a new toy store on Silver Street, and Results in Wellness, a health and wellness clinic on Springfield Road, were both planning ribbon-cutting ceremonies at press time. Also scheduled to open is a Five Below store, where everything is priced between $1 and $5.

“New business openings are a great thing to see, especially during these times that are so challenging for everybody,” Phelon said.

After many months of not being able to hold any chamber events, she’s also excited about hosting the annual chamber golf tournament, scheduled for Aug. 31 at East Mountain Country Club. “We will, of course, be following all the guidelines for masks and distancing. It certainly helps that this is an outdoor event.”

Speaking of outdoor events, the Westfield Starfires began their Futures Collegiate Baseball League season on July 8. The team modified Bullens Field to provide a safe experience for fans and staff by following state guidelines for COVID-19 safety. Phelon attended as part of a contingent of chamber members and reported that fans simply wore their masks and were able to enjoy refreshments at properly distanced picnic tables.

“We’re optimistic, and we want people to come to our community because it’s a great place to live, work, go to school, and run a business.”

Considering what’s already been lost in this unprecedented year, the shout of ‘play ball!’ was certainly welcome — and city and chamber officials hope it heralds the start of a back half of 2020 that’s far more promising than the first half.

Full Power

While it was uncertain if the Starfires would be able to play this season, the crew at Westfield Gas & Electric never stopped.

General Manager Anthony Contrino said his crews have consistently provided essential services for customers of the municipal utility. After a crash course on handling COVID-19 in the workplace that kept people safe and followed state guidelines, G & E crews have handled only emergency situations for the last several months. More recently, the utility has been able to handle non-emergency work like in-home gas and electric installations.

Contrino said the many disaster-recovery drills he and his colleagues have done in the past helped prepare them well for COVID-19.

“We’ve had a lot of remote-workforce capabilities in place, but they’ve never been tested to this degree,” he said, calling it a “blessing in disguise” as the last several months confirmed that the processes they had set up work when they are most needed.

Administrative staff returned to their offices at the end of June after the building was reconfigured with the latest pandemic protocols in place.

“I commend my co-workers, who have done a very good job during this time for their service to the city and all of our customers,” Contrino said, adding that Westfield G & E received the Reliable Public Power Provider Award for excellence in operating efficiently, reliably, and safely.

Westfield

Westfield Mayor Don Humason says he has heard from business, both downtown and elsewhere, looking to expand once they feel they can.

Whip City Fiber, a separate business that provides fiber-optic internet service, is also run by Westfield G & E. Contrino said 70% of Westfield now has access to the utility’s fiber-optic network. “In 2020, we have continued to add customers to areas that have access to fiber optics in their neighborhood.”

The plan going forward is to expand the network to the remaining 30% of the city. “Customer demand will determine where we build out the remainder of the network,” he noted.

In addition to serving Westfield, Whip City Fiber is working with 19 towns in Western Mass. to establish their internet service, Contrino added. “We are working in places like the hilltowns that were underserved with internet service, so they are appreciative that we can help them get up and running.”

Once established, customers in the hilltowns will have access to gigabit service, or 1,000 megabits coming into their homes. By installing fiber optics, Contrino said, these towns are “future-proofing” their internet systems. “We already had the competencies in place to build fiber-optic networks, so by expanding our services to other towns, we become more cost-effective for Westfield residents.”

Getting Around

On the recreation front, the Greenway Rail Trail, an elevated bike path, is expanding across the city. By the end of next year, bike paths and five bridges will be added to the trail.

“The completion of the bike trail will be a real economic driver for Westfield,” Humason said. “I think it will attract cyclists from other parts of the country, as well as the state.”

Phelon added that serious cyclists will be able to ride continuously from Westfield to New Haven, Conn., and the trail is a valuable asset for casual cyclists as well.

“Bike riders will now have a way to quickly get across town because the trail goes through the center of Westfield,” she noted. “Because it’s elevated and above all the traffic, they will be able to go from one end of town to the other, complete with off-ramps into different neighborhoods.” 

“New business openings are a great thing to see, especially during these times that are so challenging for everybody.”

The mayor is hopeful that enterprising businesses will locate near the bike trail to serve the bikers, walkers, and others who use it.

“The bike trail fits in nicely with the flavor of old Westfield and our history of industry and agriculture,” he said. “Even if you’re not interested in all that, it’s an easy way to get across town.”

Humason said he’s pleased to see that a number of road improvements over the years now connect the downtown area from the south side of the city all the way to the Mass Pike exit.

The latest road project near completion involves widening and adding sidewalks along Western Avenue. The project also improves traffic flow with turning lanes into Westfield State University, as well as pull-off areas for PVTA buses.

“Western Avenue is one of the longest streets in the city, and it deserved to get this treatment,” the mayor said, adding that certain parts of the road also have traffic islands to separate the east and west lanes. “It’s an easier road to drive now, and it looks really nice.” 

The mayor said the city completed a similar project on East Mountain Road, another long street. “If we continually work on the longer streets and keep them in good order when we have the revenue, we can work on the smaller streets in the neighborhoods and the downtown corridor, so we can keep the city in good shape.” 

Future projects coming to Westfield include a new entry gate to the military side of Barnes Airport to service the both the Army Aviation facility and the Air National Guard base. The new entrance will allow the base to modernize function and security for everyone entering the base.

A public park is also planned just outside the gate that will feature one of the F-15 fighter jets that flew over New York City on 9/11. A plaque to tell the story of the jet’s mission on Sept. 11, 2001 will also be part of the display.

Moving On

Also in the near future, Phelon will be retiring from the Greater Westfield Chamber. Before she leaves on Sept. 25, her plan is to work with the new executive director to ensure continuity in the many chamber projects.

“I want to make sure the next director understands our community, as well as our members, and can work with our public and private partners at the local and state level,” she said.

Despite the tough economic times of the last six months, prospects for Westfield look strong, she told BusinessWest, adding that she’s encouraged by the fact that no businesses have decided to not reopen. Meanwhile, Contrino said his crews have not been asked to shut off any business customers because they are permanently closing. Humason said he’s heard only from businesses looking forward to expanding once they can.

“Like many towns, we’re going through the COVID economy, but that’s not going to last forever,” the mayor said. “We’ll be ready to grow when the restraints have finally been taken off because the people in Westfield have put a lot of time, attention, and money into its city and its downtown.”

Health Care

Improved State

Dr. Andrew Artenstein

Dr. Andrew Artenstein says the state’s slow, cautious reopening has effectively blocked some of the paths COVID-19 might take, thus slowing transmission of the disease.

In many respects, Dr. Andy Artenstein says, the COVID-19 virus acts like water in the home in that, if there are leaks, it can go where you don’t necessarily want it to go and cause major problems.

“Water will always find a path,” Artenstein, chief physician executive and chief academic officer at Baystate Health, told BusinessWest. “But if you block off all the paths, you have a chance; it’s the same with the virus.”

With that, he worked to explain why it is that Massachusetts, more than most of the other 50 states at this particular moment in time, is seeing the number of hospitalizations and deaths stemming from the virus decline sharply. In short, and in his view, the residents of the Commonwealth are essentially, and somewhat effectively, blocking off the paths the virus might take.

“We live in a society where there’s free mobility — that’s one of the things we love about our society. But it’s also one of the things that puts us at risk when there’s a transmissible agent rooted in this society,” he explained. “And this one is clearly here; it’s clearly transmitted in our community. It has not gone away; it’s just that, if viruses don’t get transmitted from person to person … if the virus has nowhere to go, it puts a wall from that root of transmission. You start to block off transmission paths.”

This was Artenstein’s way of explaining why, as one looks at a map of the country charting cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the pandemic, Massachusetts is colored or tan or pink, while so many other states, especially in the South and Southwest, are dark shades of red, indicating they are hot spots.

Robert Roose, chief medical officer at Mercy Medical Center, gave essentially the same account.

“Massachusetts, along with a few of the other states here in New England, like Connecticut, New Hampshire, and a few others, seem to be solid, if not shining, examples of how a state encompassing multiple different communities can effectively slow down the rate of transmission of the coronavirus,” he said. “More than 40 other states are seeing significant increases in numbers of new infections, while here, over the past several weeks, we have not seen that increase; rather, we’ve seen a plateauing at a very low level.”

“Massachusetts and other states now doing well have been cautious in giving guidance to residents about limitations on travel and quarantining of individuals who have come from other states where there are increasing numbers of infections.”

He punctuated those comments with some statistics from his facility. Indeed, he noted that hospitalizations stemming from COVID-19, which numbered in the 50s daily on average in April, the height of the surge in this region, were down in the 20s in May, then the single digits in June. Starting in early July, there were several days when there were no hospitalizations.

Clearly, the state is doing something right, or several things right, when it comes to blocking paths for the virus, and we’ll get to those. But this begs a number of questions — especially, ‘is this sustainable?’

The quick answer, said Roose and Artenstein, is ‘yes.’ But there are a number of caveats, especially as more segments of the economy reopen in more cities, including Boston, and as the new school year is poised to begin. In their view, the Commonwealth has acted prudently in not opening too much of the economy too quickly. Staying that course is essential, they said, adding that it appears the state is committed to the slow, steady, and safe method.

Meanwhile, travel is another key factor in this equation, both people from this state traveling to others and people from other states coming here — actions that create paths for the virus, rather than block them.

“Massachusetts and other states now doing well have been cautious in giving guidance to residents about limitations on travel and quarantining of individuals who have come from other states where there are increasing numbers of infections,” Roose said. “To me, that is likely to be the most significant factor going forward, because of the rates of infection in other parts of the country; interstate travel represents one of our most significant risks in terms of keeping our rates of transmission is this local community low.”

Dr. Robert Roose

Dr. Robert Roose says caution regarding travel will be one of many factors that will determine if the Bay State can continue its pattern of falling hospitalizations as a result of the pandemic.

But the biggest factor might be fatigue.

“It’s exhausting — for all of us; I’m not just talking about the healthcare side, I’m talking about life,” said Artenstein. “There are certain things that you just miss having as social human beings. But the longer you can sort of wait this out and stretch this out, the better off we’ll be.”

In other words, people can’t relax or think for a moment that maybe it’s time to start talking about the pandemic in the past tense.

As they talked about the state’s current status as a … let’s call it a cold spot for the virus, both Roose and Artenstein praised the Commonwealth’s approach to reopening, which has been described by both those supporting and criticizing it as slow and careful.

Pain Threshold

Artenstein had another word for it.

“It’s painful, because we all want to get back to a sense of normalcy,” he explained. “It’s exhausting that you can’t do what you like to do the way you used to do it, and eventually we will be able to. But this approach has paid dividends; you get used to a little bit of a new normal, but you also know that you’re moving toward something.”

Roose agreed.

“What I think Gov. Baker and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services have done very well is be cautious, rely very clearly and directly on the key data points, and move slowly but consistently through a phased reopening,” he explained. “In other states, governors had moved much more quickly, and we’re seeing the effects of that now; in many states, they’re seeing such significant increases that they’re moving backward and rolling back some aspects of their reopenings.

“It’s not to say that this same type of thing couldn’t happen here,” he added quickly. “But relying consistently on key data and reinforcing consistently the important public-health and safety strategies that we know are effective in reducing transmission — that has not wavered, and I think that has sent a very consistent and strong message to residents to continue to wear masks, be cautious with increasing your social circle, practice hand hygiene, and quarantine when you’re sick.”

As a result of the slow reopening plan and diligence with things like mask wearing, contact tracing, social distancing, and testing, the Commonwealth has effectively moved past the first wave of the pandemic — while other states have clearly not, said those we spoke with. It is now in what Artenstein called a “window,” where, he said, residents must be diligent about not backsliding when it comes to mask wearing, hand washing, keeping one’s distance, and other preventive measures, while also preparing for the second wave that most say is almost certain to come in the fall or winter.

“That’s just historically what pandemics do,” he explained. “They don’t all do that, but statistics will tell you that there will be at least a second wave if not more waves.”

What will those waves be like? It’s difficult to say at this point, said Roose and Artenstein, adding that a number of factors will dictate the level of infections and how well the healthcare community can respond to the next surge.

But in the meantime, and while still in this window, the state’s residents and business owners alike must continue to stay the course, the experts said.

“We still could do better in terms of how often people wear masks in pubic and follow the public-health recommendations,” said Roose, adding that state leadership must continue to reinforce those messages. “We know that when we give those recommendations and that guidance and it’s clear and connected to science, it helps, and it’s certainly important to be consistent about it, or people will have less inclination to follow them.”

Meanwhile, as the state proceeds with phase 3 of its reopening plan and eyes phase 4, testing will be another critical key to closing off paths the virus might take.

“I believe strongly that adequate capacity and widespread testing are critical for us to continue to move forward into phase 4 and into a state where the community is engaging as fully as it can,” Roose said. “That allows us to ensure that, if we do identify infections, we can mitigate the spread; widespread testing is really critical, and we’re not yet where we need to be, as state and as a country. We still could be doing more, and I think the ways we do testing will continue to get easier and more readily available, and that will help quite a bit.”

Artenstein agreed, but quickly noted that all the steps people have been taking — and hopefully will continue to take — only serve to slow or inhibit the spread of the virus. The virus is still there, and it will remain there until a vaccine is developed.

“You can temporarily shut down or limit transmission,” he said, “and then you have the chance for other things to kick in, such as therapies and better approaches to diagnosis and treatment. Those things take time, but they can get a chance to take root once you’ve already established those public-health principles.

“It’s pretty obvious that limiting public gatherings and staying the course has helped,” he went on, returning to the thought that, however painful and exhausting the last few months have been, the strategy moving forward for the state and all its residents has to be to continue to wait it out and, as he said, “stretch it out.”

Bottom Line

Turning the clock back 100 years, to the so-called Spanish flu, Artenstein said the second wave of that pandemic was more severe than the first in many parts of the country simply because communities eased off on restrictions and returned to what life was like before it struck.

“A lot has changed in 100 years — science, technology, people, etc.,” he told BusinessWest. “But one thing that hasn’t changed that much, in my opinion, is behavior. We may be able to further mitigate any future surge, just as we mitigated this surge, by adhering to public-health guidelines. If we can keep that up, and then get some help with testing, better contract tracing, better therapies, which will happen, and maybe a vaccine…”

He didn’t completely finish the thought and instead stressed that this ‘if’ is a very large one, and there are really no certainties when it comes to this strategy.

But the very best strategy at the moment, he stressed, is to string this out and close off those pathways the virus can take.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

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