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Coronavirus Special Coverage

Breath of Fresh Air

Peter Picknelly, right, and Andy Yee

Peter Picknelly, right, and Andy Yee, two of the co-owners of the Student Prince, stand in a crowded Fort Street a few days after the restaurant reopened.

Lisa Pac has been brewing beer for almost two decades, eventually growing a home-brewing enterprise into Skyline Beer Co., a restaurant, craft beer and wine bar, bakery, and home-brewing supply store in Westfield.

In December, she and business partners Dana Bishop and Daniel Osella realized a dream of moving into a much larger space in the Whip City — a 4,500-square-foot restaurant, tasting room, and 10-barrel brewery on five scenic acres. Early receipts were very strong, and things were looking up.

And then March happened.

“At first, when COVID hit, we shut down for a couple days and had to reassess what we were going to do,” Pac recalled, adding that they told staffers to give them a chance to figure out a plan to stay operational and keep them working. “It was scary — we didn’t know what all this meant.”

But a plan did emerge. Pac and her team went to work simplifying and streamlining the menu before launching a robust takeout business, among other activities.

“It gave us a chance to re-evaluate a lot of things. We had such a strong start, but we got the rug pulled out from under us, so we were chasing our tails. But we were able to catch up with the day-to-day stuff, the construction stuff. It gave us the chance to breathe a little bit and finish up projects we were doing. We also came up with some top-notch beer recipes.”

Most important, while Skyline had to lay off about a third of its staff, a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan allowed it to keep many employed, albeit with different responsibilities; servers shifted to production in the brewery, for example.

“The staff has been awesome, doing what they have to do to help us get here,” Pac said. “They were eager to work. Ever since getting the loan, we did it backwards — we have this staff that’s willing to do whatever we need, so what can we have them do?”

Eventually, Skyline was able to bring back about 90% of its staff; only three or four didn’t return, but the company has created new positions in the brewery, and actually has right around the employee count it had before the pandemic hit. And now that restaurants are allowed to serve patrons outdoors, 14 tables dot an outdoor area, while a major construction project on the back patio awaits Wetlands Commission approval to move forward. “We’ve got some big plans for back there,” Pac said.

Skyline Beer Co

Skyline Beer Co. partners Dana Bishop, Lisa Pac, and Daniel Osella.

Munich Haus in Chicopee has been planning for the reopening as well. Back in March, owner Patrick Gottschlicht recalled, “we shut down completely given all the unknowns surrounding everything. Then we decided to reopen for curbside service, to take the first step in the direction of getting reopened — and our to-go business was more than it has been in the past. A lot of regular customers who hadn’t been able to dine in for a while were excited to get curbside.”

After weeks of takeout only — helped by a PPP loan that got some employees back on the payroll — the German restaurant recently opened its large, outdoor Biergarten, as well as its smaller front deck, and packed them in — well, maybe ‘packed’ isn’t the right word, considering some tables were removed to maintain safe distancing, but the place was booked solid its first week.

“With the big biergarten and the deck, we took advantage of the nice weather. And I think people, with all the restrictions lately, are excited to get back out and get some semblance of normalcy. People are eager to get back out into the world.”

“We were excited to reopen, after being shut down for a while there,” Gottschlicht told BusinessWest. “With the big Biergarten and the deck, we took advantage of the nice weather. And I think people, with all the restrictions lately, are excited to get back out and get some semblance of normalcy. People are eager to get back out into the world.”

Raring to Go

‘Eager’ is also a word that applies to Peter Picknelly when BusinessWest caught up with him two days before the Student Prince & the Fort were set to reopen, with Fort Street in downtown Springfield closed to traffic to accommodate tents, lighting, live music, and anything else that might transform an outdoor dining experience into something a bit more.

“I’m really charged up about what’s happening on Fort Street,” said Picknelly, one one of the establishment’s owners. “We’ve got our menu, all the Fort specialties, and we’ll have entertainment Thursday through Sunday night. It’ll be a downtown festival — we’ve got lights, flags, beer wagons … it’s going to be really cool. It’ll be like a German carnival out there, a mini-Octoberfest between now and Labor Day.”

But one that, at least at first, requires a shift in diner — and server — behavior. The restaurateurs we spoke with talked about table spacing (at least six feet), 90-minute limits on seatings, regular sanitizing practices, and making sure patrons wear a mask, except when sitting down at the table.

“We’ve got the tables about eight feet apart, and people have to wear masks once they leave their table,” Pac said, adding that the team is sanitizing every pen that comes back in, while wearing gloves to boot. In short, she’s balancing guests’ enthusiasm to be dining out with their safety.

“People are champing at the bit right now. That’s why it’s important to make sure we’re safe,” she added. “People do get caught up in the moment — they want to take their masks off and talk to people at another table. I’m a social person; I want to talk to everyone, so I’m trying to keep myself away from the front. It’s a natural thing — we want to talk and hang out. But we’ll constantly remind people about the masks.”

Gottschlicht’s team has been equally diligent. “We’ve already got outdoor seating, which is a big challenge for some restaurants that don’t already have it,” he said. “We went over all the government and DPH restrictions for reopening and implemented all those, and now we’re starting to work on the indoor phase — finding out what restaurants will look like and developing a plan for that.”

At press time, state guidance on indoor dining was still forthcoming, but restaurants are doing their best to plan based on what they’re hearing and common-sense predictions.

The front deck at Munich Haus

The front deck at Munich Haus, as well as the large patio known as the Biergarten, opened recently to very solid business.

“Until the guidance is released, we’re trying to put together a game plan for that, so we’re somewhat ahead of it,” Gottschlicht added.

Picknelly expects indoor seating to begin very soon, perhaps at 25% capacity, though he hopes for 50%. “Until then, the outdoor scene is going to be great.”

He’s just as excited to reopen the White Hut as well, the venerable West Springfield landmark that has begun its second life as a food truck before opening the doors to a renovated indoor space on July 4. And he knows others are pumped, too, to have a variety of dining choices, both casual and takeout, suddenly spring back to life.

“I love my wife’s cooking, but I want to get back out to restaurants,” he said. “There’s a whole other feel to it. It’s entertaining, it’s fun — let someone else serve and do the dishes.”

Next Course

To be sure, restaurants are still dealing with significant challenges, from carving out alfresco seating where none exists to limiting the number of people they can serve to the question of meetings and banquets. Gottschlicht said some event bookings for later this year at Munich Haus have been canceled, while others are waiting to see what restrictions might emerge — for instance, whether they’ll be faced with 50% occupancy or be able to pack the house.

We’re hoping to get some guidance on what we can and can’t do,” he told BusinessWest. “Some want to reschedule, others are taking a wait-and-see approach.”

At the very least, though, dishes are pouring out of the kitchen to guests who are happy just to be getting out of the house.

“It’s a great feeling to get the place back open, and get the staff back to work, too. We’re going on our 16th year, so we’ve put a lot of blood and sweat into Munich Haus and plan to be around a lot longer. I was born in Germany — we’re proud of what we do, of being an authentic German restaurant. It’s definitely a good feeling being back open.”

Pac is feeling good too — partly because business is back up to maybe 90% of its former pace, considering the outdoor dining, continued takeout service, and the brewery.

“I would never wish it on anybody,” she said of the almost three-month economic shutdown, “but I can’t complain because it helped us dial in and gave us a minute to get on the same page with everything. It’s been a wild ride.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Workforce Development

The Heat Is On

Springfield Operations Manager Meagan Greene

The culinary world is a notoriously challenging place to forge a career, and turnover at the entry level is often high, a problem that constantly challenges restaurants, hotels, colleges, and a host of other food-service companies. Enter Snapchef, which has built a regional reputation for training those workers and matching them with workforce needs to help them get a foot in the door — and then, hopefully, kick it in.

It’s called ‘backfilling.’

That’s a concept businesses in many area industries — from financial services to marketing, from security to hospitality — have been thinking about as MGM Springfield has ramped up its efforts to hire some 3,000 people for its August opening.

Backfilling, simply put, it’s the replacement of an employee who moves on to a different opportunity, and MGM has undoubtedly caused a wave of that phenomenon locally. Because of the casino’s food-service operations, area restaurants, hotels, and other facilities that prepare and serve food have been doing quite a bit of backfilling as well.

If they can find adequate replacements, that is. That’s where Snapchef, a regional food-service training company that opened up shop in Springfield last year, can play a key role.

CEO Todd Snopkowski, who founded Snapchef 16 years ago, said the business model has proven successful in its other four locations — Boston, Dorchester, Worcester, and Providence, R.I. — and has found fertile ground in the City of Homes, where the need for restaurant workers has been on the rise.

“We train folks that are looking to make a career change,” he told BusinessWest. “And, being a staffing company, we don’t only train, we also match folks looking for work in the industry with jobs that are available. If they don’t have the skills to do a job, we actually train them, whether it be dishwashing, cooking, cheffing, you name it. We cover those bases and give them a foothold in the industry.”

As the largest culinary training and staffing company in New England, Snapchef essentially trains and provides staffing help to area food-service establishments. Clients range from large colleges and universities and hospitals to food-service corporations; from hotels and corporate cafeterias to hotels and restaurants.

We train folks that are looking to make a career change,” he told BusinessWest. “And, being a staffing company, we don’t only train, we also match folks looking for work in the industry with jobs that are available. If they don’t have the skills to do a job, we actually train them, whether it be dishwashing, cooking, cheffing, you name it. We cover those bases and give them a foothold in the industry.”

“If they come to me with little or no skills or just want to brush up, we guide individuals in that track,” said Meagan Greene, operations manager in Springfield, noting that Snapchef’s 13-week courses include fast-track culinary training, ServSafe food handling, and workplace safety, among other offerings.

“When the finish the apprentice program, we try to find them full-time jobs, where they can utilize their skills in the workforce,” she went on, noting that all of that is free. The training programs are grant-funded, while Snapchef’s partner employers pay for the hours the employee works, while SnapChef pays the employee directly, with pay depending on the position.

This isn’t culinary school, Greene stressed, but a place to learn enough to get into the culinary world, and advance career-wise from there — an idea Greene called “earning and learning.”

“We go over soups, stocks, sauces, emulsions, salad bar, deli prep. Sometimes, people will go out into the field, come back, and say, ‘hey, Meagan, I did this today at work; is there a better way to do it?’ We also do a little bit of baking, which isn’t our specialty, but you’ll learn how to make pies, quick breads, muffins, and danishes.”

The need for culinary workers, especially at the entry level, is constant, Greene noted, sometimes year-round and sometimes seasonally — for example, colleges need help between September and May, while Six Flags requires a wave of help between April and October.

“For some of the colleges, this will be their second school year with us, so they may buy out some of our employees because they liked them last year,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s kind of bittersweet for us, because the people who get bought out or move forward or find their own job — those are your keepers. Those are the ones who show up for work every day, people who are clean and on time and ready to rock. I’m like, ‘noooo!’ But it’s nice to see somebody move forward.”

Moving forward, after all, is what it’s all about once that foot is in the door.

Slow Burn

Snopkowski has grown Snapchef from its original home Dorchester into a regional force that has trained thousands of workers for potentially rewarding careers in what is, admittedly, a tough field to master, and one where good help is valuable.

Clients have ranged from individual restaurants and caterers to Foxwoods Resort Casino and Gillette Stadium, as well as large food-service corporations like Aramark, Sodexo, and the Compass Group.

Snapchef CEO Todd Snopkowski

Snapchef CEO Todd Snopkowski

“With my background, being a corporate chef, I saw the need for an organization like Snapchef 25 years ago. And I think there’s a huge opportunity down the road for even more expansion,” said, noting that MGM Springfield itself poses significant opportunity. “We’re supporting them, and for businesses suffering the loss of people taking these awesome jobs MGM has to offer, we’re there to make sure we backfill the vacancies.”

Snapchef’s growth has led to a number of accolades for Snopkowski, including the 2015 SBA Small Business Person of the Year award for Massachusetts, and the 2016 Citizens Bank Good Citizens Award. And it has inspired people like Greene, who see the value in training the next generation of food-service workers.

She works with the state Department of Labor and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County to create apprenticeship models, teaching participants everything from basic knife skills to how to conduct themselves in a kitchen. She also helps them append their résumés based on what they’ve learned.

After studying culinary arts at a vocational high school and earning three degrees from Johnson & Wales University, she became a sous chef at Sturbridge Host Hotel, not far from her home in Warren. She loved the job — and the commute — but traded it in for an opportunity to work for Snapchef.

“To be honest, I’m never bored. I’m always doing something different,” she said, and that’s true of many of her trainees, who typically begin with temporary placements, which often become permanent. But not all are seeking a permanent gig, she added; some love the variety of ever-changing assignments.

“Some people love it because it’s a lifestyle for them,” she said. “They want to work over here, then they come back to me and say, ‘hey, Meagan, I wasn’t really liking that spot; I don’t want to go back there. I didn’t like the size of the kitchen. It was too big for me; I’m used to working in a smaller kitchen.’” I’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll try not to send you back there.’ And it’s a two-way street; clients can say, ‘I don’t want Joe Smith back.’”

Because the training is free, Snapchef offers an attractive opportunity for people who want to get a food in the door in food service.

Finishing Touches

As a company that fills a needed gap — as culinary schools aren’t typically training for entry-level positions — Snopkowski said Snapchef has made significant inroads in Western Mass. over the past year, especially working with FutureWorks Career Center to identify individuals looking to shift into the world of food service.

“Our employees don’t have to pay for transition training and all those attributes that are needed to get a foothold in the business,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s good to see that MGM recognizes it, the colleges as well.”

Speaking of financial perks, Snapchef-trained employees may access round-trip transportation from the Springfield office to their job sites across the region, for only $3 per day, Greene said. “It’s cheaper than Uber, cheaper than Lyft, and better than having your mom come pick you up and drop you off. If you live in the city and are used to taking the bus everywhere, you don’t have to worry about how to get to work.”

As for Greene, she continues to enjoy the variety of her work — a pickling enthusiast, she taught a recent class how to pickle vegetables, and they prepared 300 jars worth — as well as the success stories that arise from it, like a man trained by Snapchef who went on to further his education at Holyoke Community College and is now opening a restaurant with his daughter.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see people progress in a short period of time,” she said. “It’s nice to see someone grow so fast. I love that.”

Snopkowski has seen plenty such stories unfold in the 16 years his company has been training people for a new, challenging career, and then helping them build a foothold in the industry.

“We’ve only been able to scratch the surface; there are so many other opportunities out there,” he said. “The future is bright in culinary.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Restaurants Sections

2018 Restaurant GuideThe region’s bevy of restaurants comprises one of the area’s most intriguing business sectors, one in which there is constant movement, new additions, and exciting stories unfolding. This year is no exception, and BusinessWest captures that movement, that excitement, in its annual Restaurant Guide.

 

 

There’s More Growth on the Menu

Bean Group has a number of intriguing plans coming to a boil

 

Taste of Italy

West Springfield’s bNapoli melds big-city style with local flavor

 

Who’s Cooking

A list of the area’s largest restaurants

40 Under 40 Class of 2018

Senior Vice President, Wells Fargo Bank; Age 38; Education: BA, University of Texas at Austin

Ben Leonard

Ben Leonard

Leonard is a 17-year veteran of Wells Fargo and currently a senior vice president in the bank’s Middle-Market Group, based in Springfield. He is responsible for leading Wells Fargo’s growth in Western Mass. An active member of the community, he is on the board (co-vice chair) of Revitalize CDC, and is a regional ambassador for the New England AFP. He is also the New England Division ambassador for the bank’s Women’s Market Growth Initiative. Leonard lives in Hadley with his wife, 2-year-old daughter, Ida Belle, and their great dane, Doc. Raised in Hawaii, he enjoys playing ukulele with his daughter, as well as motorcycling, snowboarding, and brewing beer.

What did you want to be when you grew up? An automotive journalist.

How do you define success? I see success as a mindset where you enjoy regularly pushing against and expanding the limits of your potential. It may just be the last effort in a 5K or putting yourself out there to speak to a large group, but some of the most rewarding moments for me have come when I pushed myself beyond my own previously set limitations.

What three words best describe you? Loyal, honest, hilarious.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? Find a way to laugh. You never know what the day might throw at you to disrupt your best-laid plans. However, on the days when I can maintain a light heart, I’m better able to appreciate the highs, and the lows seem a little less severe.

What do you like most about Western Massachusetts? Balance. We have the perfect mixture of big-city culture, music, museums, and restaurants, combined with rural natural beauty and small-town social connectivity.

What are you passionate about? Transparency. With colleagues, I believe honesty in how decisions are made is very important. I have great respect for those who are generous with information, and make a point to help others avoid wasting time on paths previously explored. With clients, transparency in pricing and what you can and can’t do is necessary and rewarded in the long term. With family, open communication is paramount as well. I’m for just about anything that improves efficiency and trust.

What fictional character do you relate to most, and why? Wall-E. He’s a hopeless romantic surrounded by consumerism and technological dependence, but, against the odds, he transcends what he’s programmed to do.

Whom do you look up to, and why? My partner, Rebecca. She is honest, loving, confident, hardworking, well-read, and thoughtful. She’s not driven by ego, not impressed by superficial things, and the best role model a little girl and her dad could have. I and many others are better people from being around her.


Photography by Leah Martin Photography

40 Under 40 Class of 2018

Loan Originator, Applied Mortgage; Age 28; Education: BA, UMass Commonwealth College; MBA, Western New England University

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron

A proud Western Mass. native, Barron was raised, educated, and currently lives and works in Hampshire County. Her career in the mortgage industry provides a unique view of the economy. Having built a network of peers, clients, partners, and friends, she strives to nurture those connections to enable collaboration to achieve common, community-oriented goals. She is also committed to working with the next generation of leaders. Barron volunteers on committees for various fundraising events, serves on the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce board, is a founding board member of Young Professionals of Amherst, and is campaign co-chair for United Way of Hampshire County.

What did you want to be when you grew up? An adult. Seriously! I have been dying to be 30 since I knew what 30 was, and here I (almost) am.

How do you define success? To me, there are many categories of success — family, career, overall comfort in life. I guess, at the end of it all, I define success as the number of people who remember how you positively influenced their life in one way or another.

What three words best describe you? Goal-oriented, efficient, planner.

What do you like most about Western Massachusetts? We have it all: the hometown feel, amazing restaurants, access to healthcare and education, and beautiful natural attractions.

Who has been your best mentor, and why? My parents. They are an amazing team who support me in anything and everything I want to do and encourage me to be the best I can be every day.

What actress would play you in a movie about your life? Apparently, Mandy Moore, because someone just stopped me in the store and said I look like her — but I haven’t heard that before!

What are you passionate about? Family, friends, work, and maintaining a vibrant economy here in Western Mass. We are all in this together. Our community is as good as those around us, and helping each other helps everyone.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? My Grandma Joan. I didn’t get to know her past my young childhood, and I would love to have a chat with her now as an adult.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

An aerial view of the Village Commons

An aerial view of the Village Commons, which is at full occupancy, and has been for most of this century.

When Andy Yee talks about South Hadley, he speaks from experience.

All kinds of experience.

He grew up there, went to high school there, lives there still, and now watches his children’s high-school games there. He also does business there — quite a bit of it, actually.

He owns a number of restaurants in that community, including Johnny’s Bar & Grill and Johnny’s Tap Room, both named after his late father, as well as IYA Sushi & Noodle Kitchen, all located in the Village Commons, across College Street from Mount Holyoke College, as well as a bar called the Halfway House Lounge on Summit Street. He described that establishment as the ‘Cheers’ of South Hadley, meaning everyone there knows your name.

They also know the story of how the tavern got its name, which Yee was more than willing to share.

“Back in the day, there was a trolley system running from South Hadley Falls up to the college, and that was the halfway point, the halfway station,” he explained. “It’s a fun little place. We all grew up there; at some point, almost every resident has stopped at the Halfway House.”

Yee told that story to convey the strong sense of continuity that exists in this Hampshire County community, and how many things haven’t changed since the Halfway House started serving pints soon after Prohibition ended more than 80 years ago.

But many things have changed, and for evidence, one need only look further down Newton Street, to one of Yee’s latest entrepreneurial ventures.

He’s one of the principals — Peter Pan Chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly and Rocky’s Hardware President and CEO Rocco Falcone are the others — in a closely watched development at the so-called Woodlawn Plaza, former home to Big Y but more recently a mostly vacant eyesore of sorts.

Retail centers of this type couldn’t be classified as easy money or even a particularly wise investment at this point given the way the retail sector is heading, but this group of entrepreneurs moved to acquire the plaza at auction because of confidence in their abilities to bring new life to it, and also confidence in South Hadley itself.

“You can’t buy properties like this unless they come for sale at the right price,” said Yee, adding that there’s a reason this site was available at auction. “We see this as a good investment, and we have some great partners with great business savvy. We’re not going to sit idle on this property; there’s going to be something unique there for all to enjoy.”

This confidence results from historically steady results in South Hadley when it comes to retail and business in general, but also many recent developments that have secured the community’s place as a reputation of sorts when it comes to everything from outdoor activities to fine dining.

Take the Village Commons, for example. It’s at 100% occupancy, essentially, and has been since roughly the start of this century, said Jeff Labrecque, the facility’s chief operating officer.

“We have very, very little turnover, and when something does turn over, we usually fill it very quickly,” he said before getting his point across by noting that O’Connell Care at Home will be moving its headquarters there in several weeks, quickly claiming a 1,900-square-foot space vacated by River Valley Dental after a consolidation of that operation.

O’Connell’s move brings still more diversity to the Commons, which already had a good amount of it, said Labrecque, adding that it’s home to restaurants and bars, high-end apartments that are in demand (he says there are maybe 50 people on a waiting list, and some have been on it for years), many health and beauty businesses, service agencies, a still-surviving independent bookstore, and a still-surviving two-screen movie theater.

All of this makes the Commons a true destination, he said.

The broader goal is to make South Hadley itself more of a destination, said all those we spoke with, adding that many pieces to this puzzle are in place, and more are coming together.

Range of Initiatives

Mike Sullivan is better known for his time spent serving the community on the other side of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge — he was mayor of Holyoke for a decade after owning and operating Nick O’Neil’s tavern — but he now resides (professionally speaking) at South Hadley Town Hall.

He’s been town administrator for several years, taking that position after serving the town of Maynard (famous as the home to Digital Equipment Corp., Monster.com, and later Curt Schilling’s ill-fated 38 Studios). In fact, Sullivan’s first day in Maynard was Schilling’s last, and he remembers the town being very upset and frustrated with losing the company, emotions that shifted went it quickly dissolved into bankruptcy. But that’s another story.

This one is about South Hadley, and Sullivan said it has achieved progress in many forms in recent years, including the broad realm of economic development, attracting new companies such as Mohawk Paper and E Ink Corp., and retaining others, such as South Hadley Fuel.

The town is also making headway with recreation-related initiatives such as a bike-share project and what he called the ‘river-to-range trail program,’ which, as that name suggests, is a handicap-accessible trail route that starts at Brunell’s Marina on the Connecticut River and connects to the Summit House in Hadley on Mount Holyoke.

South Hadley at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 17,514
Area: 18.4 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential AND COMMERCIAL Tax Rate: $19.93 (Fire District 1), $20.42 (Fire District 2)
Median Household Income: $64,610
Median Family Income: $76,679
Type of Government: Town Administrator, Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Mount Holyoke College, the Loomis Communities, Mohawk Paper
* Latest information available

Such initiatives bring more people to the town and thus the benefits that go with that visitation, he explained.

“These eco-tourism amenities in communities like South Hadley are becoming more and more important,” Sullivan said. “They feed restaurants and other businesses, like those at the Village Commons, like Brunell’s, like McCray’s Farm; we’re hoping that all of those benefit from our investment in the river-to-range trail.”

But easily the most-watched project in the community involves the Woodlawn Project on Newton Street, Route 116.

The goal is to create a mixed-use development, said Sullivan, adding that the town is working to create what’s known as a ‘40R,’ or Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District, at the site, which would allow for more flexibility with regard to both zoning and eventual development. That plan will go before town meeting later this spring.

The site, formerly home to a large Big Y and Food Mart before that, still has a few tenants and is anchored by a Rocky’s Hardware store, but is still largely vacant. The new owners have torn down the 65,000-square-foot former Big Y, have plans for a larger Rocky’s with a garden center, and are hoping to attract more retail at a time when that sector is clearly struggling, but also other types of tenants.

“Retail is struggling, with Toys R Us, BonTon, and other national chains going out,” said Yee, adding that, in many properties like the one on Newton Street, restaurants have become the main anchors.

Elaborating, he said that dining and entertainment businesses have played a major role in making a South Hadley a destination not only for those living in neighboring communities such as Granby, Holyoke, and Amherst, but for residents across the region and even beyond.

This is certainly in evidence at the Village Commons, which has always been a gathering spot, but it is now even more of a destination — because of its array of eateries, but also the diversity of ventures there.

Indeed, there are now more than 70 businesses with that address on their letterhead, and while all of them serve people living around the corner (or upstairs, when it comes to those with apartments in the complex), they are also drawing people from many surrounding communities into South Hadley.

The complex’s many restaurants are perhaps the main attraction, said Lebrecque, noting that there are now several of them. In addition to the Yee family’s offerings, there’s also Tailgate Picnot, Food 101 Bar & Bistro, New Main Moon Café, WOW Frozen Yogurt, and the Mexican restaurant Autentica.

This critical mass gives the Commons both diversity and drawing power, said Lebrecque, who drew comparisons, on some level, to the city of Northampton and its thriving downtown.

“We’ve become somewhat of a food and entertainment destination, just like Northampton,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s a thriving part of our business, and it brings people from all over to South Hadley.”

But retail is also thriving in the Commons, in part because of the foot traffic created by the entertainment options, he went on, citing, as one example, Moxy Boutique.

This is a relatively new addition — it arrived about a year ago — led by an entrepreneur who left a stable, successful situation in Suffield, Conn. for the Commons because of its destination status.

And there are others who would like to gain inclusion on the tenant directory, he went on, but there isn’t any space available.

“The retail is definitely making a thriving comeback — that’s something we’ve noticed over the last few years,” said Lebrecque. “For a number of years, it was hard to get retailers interested in space, but now we have people starting to knock on our door. We have a lot of people who would like to come to the Commons, but we just don’t have the space for them.”

Coming of Age

If that sounds like a good problem to have, it is.

Such a development means your facility — and the community — are in demand, a preferred landing spot, and a great place to live, work, and operate a business.

South Hadley is all of those things, and has been since people starting gathering at the Halfway House Lounge — long before it was called that.

The goal here is to become more of a destination — for businesses, families, outdoor enthusiasts, those looking for a boutique, and those looking for a new weed whacker.

And South Hadley is making strides toward being that destination.

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

DBA Certificates Departments

The following business certificates and trade names were issued or renewed during the months of April 2018.

AMHERST

Barbara L. Hawley, Attorney at Law
24 Dickinson St.
Barbara Hawley

DeJong Consulting
81 Pine Grove
Christene DeJong

Elisha Beaman House
12 Clifton Ave.
Tina Lalonde

Katherine Pfister, LICSW
48 North Pleasant St.
Katherine Pfister

La Boa Brava
92 Henry St.
Hannah Staiger

Peelle Leisure Enterprises
161 High St.
Paul Peelle, Diana Peelle

Southern Belle Pastry
34 Pomeroy Lane
Latasha Beckett

Yiddish Book Center
1021 West St.
Susan Bronson

BELCHERTOWN

KLP Builders
55 Greenwich Hill
Kirk Pisani

Old Fashion Cleaning & Handyman Services
38A Warren Wright St.
Aneta Rybicki

CHICOPEE

Chicopee High School Lacrosse
22 Sachem St.
Tammy Niedermeier, Tina Niedermeier

CSM Entertainment
77 Grattan St.
Christopher Kelleher

Felt to the Core
91 8th Ave.
Christine Laverdiere

STAR Mini Mart, LLC
51 Springfield St.
Eric Collazo

Touch of G. LaRose
208 Exchange St.
Gilmarys Marrero

DEERFIELD

Giving Circle Thrift Shop
55B Main St.
Susan Pratt-Tripp Memorial Foundation Inc.

EASTHAMPTON

Boucher-O’Brien Funeral Home
7 Pleasant St.
Thomas O’Brien III

Buri’s Generation HI & GC
31 Exeter St.
Belisario Buri

Payne and Picard Remodeling
122 Pleasant St.
Peter Payne Jr.

Zenful Cleaning
21 High St.
Yushan Zheng

EAST LONGMEADOW

Caitlin Lavin
280 North Main St., Suite 4
Caitlin Lavin

Dreamscape Design Landscaping
20 Somerset St.
Marco Basile

John DeSousa General Contractor
18 Dell St.
John DeSousa

Meadows Health Center
40 Crane Ave.
Muhammad Gul

HADLEY

Infinity Ed
245 Russell St.
Varna Nailc

Out of This World Cleaning
116 Rocky Hill Road
Lindsey St. Laurence

T-Mobile
367 Russell St.
Executive Cellular Phones Inc.

HOLYOKE

Bennion Kombucha
92 Race St.
Michael Bennion

Defining Moments Productions
42 Ogden St.
Joseph Hodgins

El Dugout de Gammy
134 High St.
Jesus Hernandez

Graphic Stop
50 Holyoke St.
Christopher Lombardi

Hillside Auto Sales
911 Main St.
Michael Krassler

Hothouse Farms
5B Appleton St.
Audrey Park, Lucas Wiggins

Hothouse Holyoke
5B Appleton St.
Audrey Park, Lucas Wiggins

KTG Construction
1180 Northampton St.
Kurt Garvery

T & Y Enteprises Inc.
1530 Northampton St.
Tamer Mahdy

Torres Flooring
83 Martin St.
Jose Torres

Voltscooter
56 Nonotuck St.
Kenneth Harstine

LONGMEADOW

JML Construction Services
152 Burbank Road
JML Construction Services

Matchmaking.world
73 Oakwood Dr.
Matchmaking.world

SafelyRetire.com
102 Woolworth St.
SafelyRetire.com

LUDLOW

A.K. Paint
9 Cady St., Apt. 7
Andrew Kessler

Bio Links of New England
438 Ventura St.
Leslie Lindsey

Bob Costa Electric
181 Wedgewood Dr.
Robert Costa

Jerry’s Roofing
572 Fuller St.
Gerald Brown

Precision Home Improvement
476 Fuller St.
Jon Schneider

RC Computers
51 Simonds St.
Richard Calento, Joanne Calento

NORTHAMPTON

Applied Mortgage
211 North St.
HarborOne Mortgage, LLC

Dapper Kitty
29 Butler Place
Melissa Goldsmith, Anthony Fonseca

Fitzwilly’s/Toasted Owl
21-23 Main St.
Fred Gohr

Gelb Gemological Consulting
4 Madison Ave.
Thomas Gelb

Gothic and Main
29 Butler Place
Anthony Fonseca, Melissa Goldsmith

Greg’s Auto Repair
442 Elm St.
Jeffrey Tenczar

Hasper and Associates
24 North Maple St., #1
Patricia Hasper

Kidstuff
90 Maple St.
Tami Schirch

MLMC
29 Butler Place
Melissa Goldsmith, Anthony Fonseca

Pear Tree Press Music Publishers
703 Fairway Village
Ronald Perera

Sally Staub Design
74 Audubon Road
Sally Piland Staub

Student Power Networks
37 Kensington Ave.
William Wimsatt

PALMER

Cardinal Custom Carpentry and Woodworking
21 Wilbraham St.
Angelina Dubovik

Cross Roads Institute Driving Safety
2045 Calkins Road
Brian Griffith, Julie Griffith

Dillon Childs, Electrician
3115 Main St.
Dillon Childs

SPRINGFIELD

Big Y Express #166
471 Cooley St.
Big Y Foods Inc.

Brown Mini Market
178 Oakland St.
Christopher Brown

Check 2 Cash
338 Belmont Ave.
Phuoc Thien Ho

Chinese Qi Gong Tui Na
1655 Boston Road
Zujin Chen

Chiro Pro Billers & Management
34 King St.
Maria Davila

Garcia Detailing
199 Fernbank Road
Richard Garcia

Goddess Goods
258 Main St.
Kalisha Davis

Goldy’s Affordable Landscaping
34 Langdon St.
Rodolfo Sanchez

The Green Team
198 East Allen Ridge Road
James Bazinet

Hegartees
11 Balfour Dr.
Joseph Hegarty

International Auto Sales
715 Liberty St.
Tina DePergola

Jetmar Trucking
80 Harkness Ave.
Jose Torres

Kenia Hair Center
219 Berkshire Ave.
Kenia Torres

Lavigne Cleaning Machine
67 Hall St.
Michael Lavigne

Lozada’s Auto Sales
86 Boston Road
Daniel Lozada

The Markets at Eastfield
1685 Boston Road
William Bullock

Northeast Lawn and Shrub
25 Manchester Terrace
Donald LeBlanc

PJB Home Improvement
67 Lang St.
Paul Babiec

Pac One
46 Tinkham Road
Justin Cotton Jr.

Rhino Linings of Springfield
50 Verge St.
Michael Dancy

Roussel and Sons Masonry
59 Jamaica St.
Joshua Roussel

Timminy Press
61 Adams St.
William Dusty

Top Notch 2
538 Page Blvd.
Shawn Jones

Touch of Class Boutique
1655 Boston Road
Owen Bewry

Uno Chicago Grill
1722 Boston Road
Uno Restaurants, LLC

WESTFIELD

Crack Attack Sealcoating
419 West Road
Justin Boisseau

Elegant Home Improvement
3 Scarfo Dr.
Viachaslau Khivuk

Heritage Auto Transport
1 Roderick Dr.
Nathan Charette

Ken’s Appraisal Service
3 Crawford Dr.
Kenneth McCoubrey

PMJ Builders
57½ Montgomery St.
Peter Pienkowski Sr.

Westfield’s Fallen Heroes
1 First Ave.
Westfield’s Fallen Heroes

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Cassie Roche, MS, LMHC
425 Union St.
Cassie Roche

Classic Burgers Inc.
1261 Westfield St.
Barry Parker

Expo Liquors
1122 Memorial Ave.
West Side Spirits

The Help to Retire Group
181 Park Ave.
HTR Group N.E., LLC

King Pizza
1440 Memorial Ave.
Enes Inc.

Lincare Inc.
51 Park Ave.
Susan Yanush

Majestic Theater
131 Elm St.
Todd Cadis

Pleasant Valley Real Estate
865 Memorial Ave.
Nicholas Katsoulis

Potterville Pottery
1702 Riverdale St.
Laura Frasco

Precision Components Group
190 Doty Circle
Peter Elias

Sorrento’s Pizza of West Springfield
660 King’s Highway
Pasquale Albano

Spartan Auto Care Center
865 Memorial Ave.
Nicholas Katsoulis

Spartan Auto Sales
78 Lowell St.
Nicholas Katsoulis

WILBRAHAM

Better Days Counseling
8 Federal Lane
Jessica Senecal-Bennett

DES Woodworking
103 Manchonis Road
Dustin Smith

Elevation by Lattitude
859 Stony Hill Road
CCW Catering, LLC

Excel Training Institute Inc.
4 Stony Hill Road
Rebecca Paquette

Chamber Corners Departments

1BERKSHIRE
www.1berkshire.com
(413) 499-1600

• April 18: Good News Business Salute, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Berkshire Hills Country Club, 500 Benedict Road, Pittsfield. Join us for our morning breakfast, where we will honor members and announce the winner of this year’s Esther Quinn Award. Cost: $35-$45. Register online at www.1berkshire.com.

• April 26: Creative Resources Conference, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., hosted by Stationery Factory, 63 Flansburg Ave., Dalton. The format has three tracts, with a total of nine workshops for creatives, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. More information to come. Register online at www.1berkshire.com.

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.amherstarea.com
(413) 253-0700

• April 26: Margarita Madness, 5:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Lord Jeffery Inn, 30 Boltwood Ave., Amherst. Come taste margaritas and vote for your favorite. There will also be delicious dishes from participating restaurants and dozens of great raffle prizes. Cost: $30 pre-registered, $40 at the door. Register online at www.amherstarea.com.

FRANKLIN COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.franklincc.org
(413) 773-5463

• April 20: Monthly Breakfast Series, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Greenfield High School, 21 Barr Ave., Greenfield. Full breakfast will be served during the program, which will feature an Entrepreneur of the Year panel. Sponsored by Franklin County Community Development Corp. and the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board. Cost: $13 for members; $16 for non-members. Register at franklincc.org or by e-mailing [email protected]

• April 26: Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center, 289 Main St., Greenfield. Networking event with special guest Sue Dahling Sullivan from Massachusetts ArtWeek. Come kick off the debut of ArtWeek in Western Mass. Refreshments and cash bar will be available. Cost: $10. Register at franklincc.org or by e-mailing [email protected]

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101

• April 19: Business After Hours: A Salute to the ’70s Disco Party, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Ohana School of Performing Arts. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

• April 24: B2B Speed Networking, 8-9 a.m., hosted by Chicopee Boys and Girls Club. For more information, visit chicopeechamber.org/events.

• April 25: Salute Breakfast at the Moose Family Center: “Easy, Cost-neutral Sustainability for Businesses,” 7:15-9 a.m. Chief Greeter: Phil Norman, CISA. Keynote: Center for EcoTechnology. Sponsored by United Personnel, Westfield Bank, Holyoke Medical Center, Polish National Credit Union, Gaudreau Group, Sunshine Village, Spherion Staffing Services, and PeoplesBank. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.holyokechamber.com
(413) 534-3376

• April 18: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., sponsored and hosted by Fairfield Inn & Suites, 229 Whiting Farms Road, Holyoke. Meet up with your friends and business associates for a little networking. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Feel free to bring a door prize. Sign up online at holyokechamber.com.

• April 20: Economic Development Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Holyoke Community College, Kittredge Center, PeoplesBank Conference Room. Learn from EMPATH about how to break the cycle of poverty and utilize the bridge to self-sufficiency theory to approach economic mobility. EMPATH helps low-income people achieve long-term economic mobility, and has developed a holistic approach to mentoring. Event emcees are Mary Coleman, EMPATH; Dr. Christina Royal, Holyoke Community College; and Kathleen Anderson, Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members and walk-in guests.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.westfieldbiz.org
(413) 568-1618

• April 24: Home & Business Community Marketplace & Tabletop Event, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by the Ranch Golf Club, 65 Sunnyside Road, Southwick. An opportunity to market and sell your products and services to area residents and businesses. Sip and shop your way through the marketplace with a beer and wine tasting, live music, and a chance to vote for your favorite nosh at the food court. Cost: $50 for vendor rental space (table not included; bring your own, six feet or less with tablecloth), $75 for vendor table (includes six-foot table; bring your own tablecloth). Attendance is free to the public. For more information, contact Southwick Economic Development at (413) 304-6100.

SOUTH HADLEY & GRANBY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.shgchamber.com
(413) 532-6451

• April 19: Business After 5, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Ohana School of Performing Arts, 470 Newton St., South Hadley. Sponsored by Berkshire Hills Music Academy. This Everything 70’s Disco Party is a networking event for members and friends of the chamber. We are joining with the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce on this event, so there will be many new business colleagues to meet and greet over the three floors of studio space. The event will feature music, food, beverages, and dancing. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. For further information and to register, visit www.shgchamber.com or call the chamber office at (413) 532-6451.

• April 22: Mohegan Sun bus trip, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Proceeds support the chamber’s scholarship fund and its two community Councils on Aging. There are bonuses on food and other pluses included in the cost. Bus departs from and returns to the former Big Y parking lot at 501 Newton St. Cost: $35. For further information and to register, visit www.shgchamber.com or call the chamber office at (413) 532-6451.

• April 24: An Educational Breakfast: “Cybersecurity: What We All Need to Know,” 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by PeoplesBank and Loomis Village, 20 Bayon St., South Hadley. We will learn how cybersecurity impacts our own lives, both personally and professionally. The presentation will be led by Joseph Zazzaro, senior vice president, Information Technology, and David Thibault, first vice president, Commercial Banking at PeoplesBank. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. For further information and to register, visit www.shgchamber.com or call the chamber office at (413) 532-6451.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER
www.springfieldregionalchamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• April 25: Beacon Hill Summit, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., day-long trip to the State House to meet legislators. Cost: $180 for members, $225 general admission, which includes transportation, lunch, and reception. To make a reservation, visit www.springfieldregionalchamber.com, e-mail [email protected], or call (413) 755-1310.

WEST OF RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.ourwrc.com
(413) 426-3880

• April 26: Coffee with Agawam Mayor Sapelli, 8:30-10 a.m., hosted by Agawam Senior Center Coffee Shop, 954 Main St., Agawam. Join us for a cup of coffee and a town update from Mayor Bill Sapelli. Questions and answers will immediately follow. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY OF GREATER SPRINGFIELD
springfieldyps.com

• April 19: YPS Third Thursday: “Career Development & Networking,” 5-7 p.m., hosted by Lattitude Restaurant, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Cost: free for YPS members, $10 for non-members.

Chamber Corners Departments

1BERKSHIRE

www.1berkshire.com

(413) 499-1600

• April 18: Good News Business Salute, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Berkshire Hills Country Club, 500 Benedict Road, Pittsfield. Join us for our morning breakfast, where we will honor members and announce the winner of this year’s Esther Quinn Award. Cost: $35-$45. Register online at www.1berkshire.com.

• April 26: Creative Resources Conference, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., hosted by Stationery Factory, 63 Flansburg Ave., Dalton. The format has three tracts, with a total of nine workshops for creatives, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. More information to come. Register online at www.1berkshire.com.

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.amherstarea.com

(413) 253-0700

• April 26: Margarita Madness, 5:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Lord Jeffery Inn, 30 Boltwood Ave., Amherst. Come taste margaritas and vote for your favorite. There will also be delicious dishes from participating restaurants and dozens of great raffle prizes. Cost: $30 pre-registered, $40 at the door. Register online at www.amherstarea.com.

FRANKLIN COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.franklincc.org

(413) 773-5463

• April 20: Monthly Breakfast Series, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Greenfield High School, 21 Barr Ave., Greenfield. Full breakfast will be served during the program, which will feature an Entrepreneur of the Year panel. Sponsored by Franklin County Community Development Corp. and the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board. Cost: $13 for members; $16 for non-members. Register at franklincc.org or by e-mailing [email protected]

• April 26: Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center, 289 Main St., Greenfield. Networking event with special guest Sue Dahling Sullivan from Massachusetts ArtWeek. Come kick off the debut of ArtWeek in Western Mass. Refreshments and cash bar will be available. Cost: $10. Register at franklincc.org or by e-mailing [email protected]

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• April 3: Chamber Seminar: “Pay Equity,” presented by Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast, 9-11 a.m, hosted by La Quinta Inn & Suites. Sponsored by Westfield Bank. Cost: $20 for members, $25 for non-members. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

• April 11: Multi-chamber Table Top Expo: “A Taste of Commerce,” 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Bartley Center at Holyoke Community College. Table fee of $150 includes table, two entrance passes, a light supper, and parking. Admission: free with pre-registration only, $15 at the door. Sign up at chicopeechamber.org/events.

• April 19: Business After Hours: A Salute to the ’70s Disco Party, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Ohana School of Performing Arts. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

• April 24: B2B Speed Networking, 8-9 a.m., hosted by Chicopee Boys and Girls Club. For more information, visit chicopeechamber.org/events.

• April 25: Salute Breakfast at the Moose Family Center: “Easy, Cost-neutral Sustainability for Businesses,” 7:15-9 a.m. Chief Greeter: Phil Norman, CISA. Keynote: Center for EcoTechnology. Sponsored by United Personnel, Westfield Bank, Holyoke Medical Center, Polish National Credit Union, Gaudreau Group, Sunshine Village, Spherion Staffing Services, and PeoplesBank. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• April 4: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Suite3 in the Mill 180 Building, 180 Pleasant St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Suite3. Take your connection building to the next level when we partner with the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce on this Networking by Night event. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for future members. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber office at (413) 527-9414.

• April 11: Multi-chamber Table Top Expo: “A Taste of Commerce,” 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Bartley Center at Holyoke Community College. Friends and colleagues can come together for new networking opportunities and new features such as Made in Mass., Minute Clinic, and Food for Thought. Admission: free with online registration, $15 at the door. Table space is still available. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber office at (413) 527-9414.

• May 10: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Amy’s Place, 80 Cottage St., Easthampton. Sponsored by bankESB. There will be food and door prizes. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber office at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.holyokechamber.com

(413) 534-3376

• April 4: Women in Leadership Series, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., hosted by HCC Culinary Arts Institute, 164 Race St., Holyoke. Join us April through July to learn from area CEOs while networking with your peers from the region. An elegant lunch prepared by students from the Holyoke Community College Culinary Arts program will provide the setting, which will create the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue on some key leadership issues for those building their careers. Each month your table will join one of the region’s leading CEOs.

• April 11: Multi-chamber Table Top Expo: “A Taste of Commerce,” 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Bartley Center at Holyoke Community College. Presented by the Greater Holyoke, Greater Chicopee, Greater Easthampton, Greater Northampton, South Hadley/Granby, and Quaboag Hills chambers of commerce. Vendor tables cost $150. Admission: no charge with advance registration, $15 at the door. This event sells out. Call (413) 534-3376 or your local chamber to reserve a table.

• April 18: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., sponsored and hosted by Fairfield Inn & Suites, 229 Whiting Farms Road, Holyoke. Meet up with your friends and business associates for a little networking. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Feel free to bring a door prize. Sign up online at holyokechamber.com.

• April 20: Economic Development Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Holyoke Community College, Kittredge Center, PeoplesBank Conference Room. Learn from EMPATH about how to break the cycle of poverty and utilize the bridge to self-sufficiency theory to approach economic mobility. EMPATH helps low-income people achieve long-term economic mobility, and has developed a holistic approach to mentoring backed by the latest brain science that busts through silos and combats chronic stress. Event emcees are Mary Coleman, EMPATH; Dr. Christina Royal, Holyoke Community College; and Kathleen Anderson, Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members and walk-in guests.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com

(413) 584-1900

• April 4: April Arrive @ 5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Suite3 in the Mill 180 Building, 180 Pleasant St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Applied Mortgage, H&R Block, and MassDevelopment. A networking event. Cost: $10 for members.

• April 11: Protecting Your Data from Security Risks, 9-11 a.m., hosted by Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St., Northampton. Presented by Pioneer Training. CyberSafe is a two-hour workshop for non-technical users that focuses on using technology without compromising personal or organizational security. Students will learn the skills they need to protect digital data on computers, networks, mobile devices, and the Internet. They will learn how to identify many of the common risks involved in using technology, such as phishing, spoofing, malware, and social engineering, and then learn how to protect themselves and their organizations from those risks. Pre-registration is required, and space is limited. Cost: $25 for members, $35 for non-members. To register, visit goo.gl/forms/pX8YUuC25YdMsLjD2.

• April 11: Multi-chamber Table Top Expo: “A Taste of Commerce,” 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Bartley Center at Holyoke Community College. A networking event. Cost: $150 for a table for members, $225 for a table for non-members, $10 walk-in fee for members.

• May 4: Annual Spring Swizzle, 6:30-10:30 p.m., hosted by Eastside Grill, 19 Strong Ave., Northampton. A networking event. Cost: $75; $100 for two. Purchase tickets at www.chamberspringswizzle.com.

• May 9: May Arrive @ 5, 5-7 p.m., host to be announced. Sponsored by Northeast Solar and the Lusteg Wealth Management Group – Merrill Lynch. A networking event. Cost: $10 for members.

• May 17: Workshop: “Microsoft Excel Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts,” 9-11 a.m., hosted by Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St., Northampton. Presented by Pioneer Training. This workshop will present our favorite tips, tricks, and shortcuts we have collected and developed over 20 years of teaching and using Microsoft Excel. Topics will include shortcuts for selecting ranges, using autofill to create a series of dates or numbers, setting the print area, using page-break preview, adding headers and footers, and using page-layout view. You’ll learn how to group spreadsheets in the same workbook in order to type or format more than one sheet at the same time, as well as how to create 3D formulas that calculate across several spreadsheets in the same workbook. Participants are encouraged to bring laptops and follow along with the instructor, but this is not required. Cost: $35 for members, $45 for non-members. Pre-registration required at goo.gl/forms/pX8YUuC25YdMsLjD2.

• June 6: June Arrive @ 5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Glendale Ridge Vineyard, 155 Glendale Road, Southampton. Sponsored by Northeast Solar, MassDevelopment, and Kuhn Riddle Architects. A networking event. Cost: $10 for members.

• June 21: Workshop: “Microsoft Word: Advanced Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts,” 9-11 a.m., hosted by Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St., Northampton. Presented by Pioneer Training. This workshop will go beyond the basics and explore some of Word’s more advanced features. You’ll learn how to use Word styles to make global changes to a document quickly and easily. The class will also cover working with templates to automate document creation. You’ll learn to use several of Word’s features for working with longer documents — adding a table of contents, inserting section breaks, inserting headers and footers, and inserting and modifying page numbers. Cost: $35 for members, $45 for non-members. Space is limited, and pre-registration is required at goo.gl/forms/pX8YUuC25YdMsLjD2.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• April 2: April Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., hosted by the Arbors, 40 Court St., Westfield. Join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. Event is free and open to the public. Register online at www.westfieldbiz.org so we may give our host a proper count. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• April 11: WE2BA High School Career Fair, 7:45-11:30 a.m., hosted by Westfield State University at the Woodward Center, 395 Western Ave., Westfield. Don’t miss the chance to help shape our future through workforce development in our community. Join us to help inspire Westfield High School and Westfield Technical Academy students with career exploration. More than 400 students will be in attendance. We are looking for 75 vendors to participate. The vendor tables are free. Register online at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• April 9: April After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Betts Plumbing & Heating Supply Inc., 14 Coleman Ave., Westfield. Refreshments will be served. A 50/50 raffle will benefit the chamber scholarship fund. Bring your business cards and make connections. Cost: free for members, $10 for non-members (cash or credit paid at the door). Register online at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• April 24: Home & Business Community Marketplace & Tabletop Event, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by the Ranch Golf Club, 65 Sunnyside Road, Southwick. An opportunity to market and sell your products and services to area residents and businesses. Sip and shop your way through the marketplace with a beer and wine tasting, live music, and a chance to vote for your favorite nosh at the food court. Cost: $50 for vendor rental space (table not included; bring your own, six feet or less with tablecloth), $75 for vendor table (includes six-foot table; bring your own tablecloth). Attendance is free to the public. For more information, contact Southwick Economic Development at (413) 304-6100.

SOUTH HADLEY & GRANBY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.shgchamber.com

(413) 532-6451

• April 11: Multi-chamber Table Top Expo: “A Taste of Commerce,” 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Bartley Center at Holyoke Community College. This business networking and marketing event, now in its 24th year, will provide business professionals and entrepreneurs an opportunity to promote their businesses — to “strut their stuff.” Tables are available for $150. Admission is free if you pre-register with the chamber or $15 at the door. Whether you plan to be a participating vendor or want to simply attend, go to www.shgchamber.com for more information or to register, or call (413) 532-6451.

• April 19: Business After 5, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Ohana School of Performing Arts, 470 Newton St., South Hadley. Sponsored by Berkshire Hills Music Academy. This Everything 70’s Disco Party is a networking event for members and friends of the chamber. We are joining with the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce on this event, so there will be many new business colleagues to meet and greet over the three floors of studio space. The event will feature music, food, beverages, and dancing. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. For further information and to register, visit www.shgchamber.com or call the chamber office at (413) 532-6451.

• April 22: Mohegan Sun bus trip, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Proceeds support the chamber’s scholarship fund and its two community Councils on Aging. There are bonuses on food and other pluses included in the cost. Bus departs from and returns to the former Big Y parking lot at 501 Newton St. Cost: $35. For further information and to register, visit www.shgchamber.com or call the chamber office at (413) 532-6451.

• April 24: An Educational Breakfast: “Cybersecurity: What We All Need to Know,” 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by PeoplesBank and Loomis Village, 20 Bayon St., South Hadley. We will learn how cybersecurity impacts our own lives, both personally and professionally. The presentation will be led by Joseph Zazzaro, senior vice president, Information Technology, and David Thibault, first vice president, Commercial Banking at PeoplesBank. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. For further information and to register, visit www.shgchamber.com or call the chamber office at (413) 532-6451.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.springfieldregionalchamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• April 4: [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m, hosted by Delaney House, One Country Club Road, Holyoke. Featuring the Mayor’s Forum with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt, and newly elected Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, who will be interviewed by Western Mass News anchor Dave Madsen. Cost: $25 for members in advance ($30 at the door), $35 general admission ($40 at the door). To make a reservation, visit www.springfieldregionalchamber.com, e-mail [email protected], or call (413) 755-1310.

• April 5: Leadership Institute Graduation, 6 p.m., hosted by Springfield Sheraton, One Monarch Place, Springfield. Cost: $40 for members. To make a reservation, visit www.springfieldregionalchamber.com, e-mail [email protected], or call (413) 755-1310.

• April 25: Beacon Hill Summit, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., day-long trip to the State House to meet legislators. Cost: $180 for members, $225 general admission, which includes transportation, lunch, and reception. To make a reservation, visit www.springfieldregionalchamber.com, e-mail [email protected], or call (413) 755-1310.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• April 4: Wicked Wednesday, 5-7 p.m., hosted by CHD Cancer House of Hope, West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information about this event, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880, or register online at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

• April 12: Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., hosted by Lattitude, West Springfield. Must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately that day. We cannot invoice you for these events. Register online at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

• April 26: Coffee with Agawam Mayor Sapelli, 8:30-10 a.m., hosted by Agawam Senior Center Coffee Shop, 954 Main St., Agawam. Join us for a cup of coffee and a town update from Mayor Bill Sapelli. Questions and answers will immediately follow. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY OF GREATER SPRINGFIELD

springfieldyps.com

• April 19: YPS Third Thursday: “Career Development & Networking,” 5-7 p.m., hosted by Lattitude Restaurant, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Cost: free for YPS members, $10 for non-members.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Green Thumb Industries will soon begin operating a marijuana-cultivation operation in this mill building at 28 Appleton St. And it will likely be the first of several such operations in Holyoke.

Green Thumb Industries will soon begin operating a marijuana-cultivation operation in this mill building at 28 Appleton St. And it will likely be the first of several such operations in Holyoke.

Marcos Marrero says that if one were to have a machine running an optimization algorithm that would weigh a host of quantitative and qualitative factors to ultimately determine the very best spot in the region — and maybe the country — to locate a marijuana cultivation and distribution facility, it would, when done with its analysis, likely spit out two words: Holyoke and Massachusetts.

And that second word is necessary, he went on, because there is, in fact, a Holyoke in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, and he’s already been asked more than a few times if he works for that small town of 5,000 people near the center of the Centennial State.

He doesn’t. He’s director of Planning and Economic Development for the other Holyoke, the one on the Connecticut River. The one heralded as one of the first planned industrial cities in the country. The one where Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries (TGI) is set to open an estimated $10 million marijuana-cultivation facility in former mill space on Appleton Street this spring.

And Marrero is fielding a lot of phone calls and e-mails these days from other people wanting to know more about that Holyoke, and marijuana cultivation is usually the reason (more on those inquiries later).

First, back to that algorithm. As noted, it would weigh a host of quantitative factors, said Marrero, and they all project strongly in Holyoke’s favor. These range from the roughly 1.5 million square feet of available, attractively priced mill space within the city, much of it ideal for marijuana cultivation because of the mills’ open spaces and high ceilings, to the lowest electricity rates in the state (this is a power-intensive business), to Holyoke’s location along I-91 and just off the Turnpike.

“You can ship it east, and you can ship it north,” said Marrero, adding quickly that there also qualitative factors to consider.

Or at least one big one, anyway. That would be the city’s welcoming attitude toward an industry that most communities in the Bay State are throwing stop signs and speed bumps in front of.

“Many cities and towns are taking out the pitchforks to prevent the cannabis industry from coming in,” said Holyoke’s mayor, Alex Morse. “Given my outspoken support for the industry, we’re seeing companies from across the country come into Holyoke to meet with us and my team about locations and learn more about our special-permit process. It’s been company after company that’s been looking to invest.”

But this cannabis phenomenon, if you will, is just part of the story. And it’s only one of the ways in which the city is succeeding with filling some its legendary and mostly idle or underused mills.

There are many others, starting with the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, which opened in the Cubit building (anther of those old mills) in January. There are also the market-rate apartments in the floors above that facility, and a host of other housing initiatives as well.

There are also arts-related facilities, such as Gateway City Arts on Race Street. And then, there are a growing number of startups, mentored by groups like SPARK, that are also moving into those mills.

All this, or most all of it (the marijuana law was passed in 2016), was part of Morse’s vision when he became mayor in 2012, and also why he’s still mayor today, having been re-elected to a four-year term (the city’s first) last fall. Back when he first ran for office, he explained, he saw enormous potential for the city to become home to a wide array of businesses and to become an attractive residential address as well after decades when it clearly wasn’t.

The formula called for a host of public investments — they’ve come in many forms, from a new canal walk to a new train depot to a slew of road projects — that would in turn encourage private investments (such as the Cubit building and GTI, for example). There would also be a focus on building the cultural economy, encouraging entrepreneurship, and maximizing Holyoke’s many geographic and historical assets.

In short, it’s all coming together nicely, as we’ll see in this, the latest installment of BusinessWest’s Community Spotlight series.

Joint Ventures

When asked to put all that aforementioned interest in Holyoke on the part of cannabis enterprises, or would-be cannabis enterprises, into perspective, Marrero let out a deep breath.

“The last couple of weeks have been … crazy,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s been lots of meetings and phone calls. Some of them are companies that are just shopping around and don’t necessarily know everything about Holyoke, but they may be looking in the Western Mass. corridor. But they’ve heard about us and want to know more.”

And it’s been crazy for a reason, actually several of them, as noted at the top.

“We believe we have the best competitive advantages for the industry at this time,” Marrero explained, “from the real estate to the low-cost electricity — those lights are on a lot — to the water. Holyoke has a lot of offer these businesses.

“And in Mayor Morse, you have the first mayor to come out and quite vocally support legalizing marijuana, recreationally and medically, and that certainly makes a difference,” he went on, adding that the city had one of the first ordinances in the state regulating, but also, and in many ways, welcoming the industry.

“So there’s some political stability — there’s a willingness and a desire to have this industry here,” Marrero continued, adding that all this caught the attention of GTI, which is now permitted to operate a facility on 42,000 square feet of former mill space at 28 Appleton St.

The company plans to hire about 100 people within the next year, said Morse, adding that, while not all of these are skilled positions, per se, these will be attractive positions with wages averaging $15 or more.

“When GTI held its first job fair last fall, there were more than 700 people in the room,” he recalled. “And that sends a strong message to other elected leaders in this city and also the community that people are looking for jobs, they’re willing to get trained, and they want to work.”

The Cubit building, home to apartments and the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, is just one example of how Holyoke’s historic mills are being put to new and productive uses.

The Cubit building, home to apartments and the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, is just one example of how Holyoke’s historic mills are being put to new and productive uses.

Meanwhile, there are many other entities looking to join GTI, said Marrero, adding that there are at least six businesses expressing what he called “serious” interest and moving toward the permitting stage, and perhaps a dozen more that are kicking the tires and filling Marrero’s voice mailbox.

How many will eventually land in Holyoke obviously remains to be seen, but Marrero and Morse both believe the cannabis sector could soon employ hundreds in the Paper City and bring additional benefits as well in the form of supporting businesses that will also pay taxes and employ area residents.

“Once you have a clustering effect of any industry, you have a subsequent clustering effect of any industry that supports that sector, and that could benefit not only Holyoke but surrounding communities,” Marrero explained. “If we had 10 cannabis-growing companies, not only would that translate into a large amount of jobs, tax revenue, and more, but then those 10 companies are going to be demanding services from pipe fitters, electricians, those who maintain HVAC systems, transportation and logistics companies, security companies, etc.; you have a second tier of expertise that is developed in the economy to support them.”

This is what has happened in Colorado (he’s not sure about the community of Holyoke) and other states where marijuana has been legalized, he went on, adding that the Holyoke in Massachusetts has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes made by others before it, and there have been some.

Run of the Mills

While the cannabis industry starts to fill in that section of the canvas that is a changing Holyoke, other businesses are finding the city as well, and the vision that Morse put in place at the start of this decade is coming into focus.

That vision involved embracing the city’s industrial past as a paper and textile hub, but also recognizing that this was in the past and that the community had to develop new sources of jobs and tax revenue while also revitalizing a downtown that had seen much better days.

The strategy for doing all that, as noted earlier, is multi-faceted.

“We’ve been pursuing an innovation-based economic-development strategy and coupling that with a public-investment strategy,” the mayor explained. “We’ve made a number of investments that have made the city a more attractive place for private investment and incentivising developers to come in; they’ve recognized that the city is making investments in itself to make it a more liveable, walkable community, especially in the downtown, and they’re responded to that.”

There’s been a housing strategy as part of that broader plan, he went on, adding that housing is obviously key to attracting businesses and the people who would work for them.

The goal is to create a dense, diverse inventory of housing, Morse went on, adding that the city is making strides in this regard with market-rate projects such as the Cubit building, mixed-use projects such such as a Wynn Development initiative at the former Farr Alpaca Mills on Appleton Street, and public housing efforts such as the ongoing, 167-unit Lyman Terrace project.

As for those public investments, they have come in many forms, including the canal walk and train station, but also a number of parks and neighborhoods. The effect has been to make the city a more attractive option for businesses, but also families, said the mayor.

“We’re not of the philosophy that one big corporate giant is going to arrive in Holyoke and solve all our problems — we have a much more long-term view of sustainable economic development,” he explained. “We’re focused on the innovation economy, but also entrepreneurship and small-business development, through initiatives such as SPARK.”

There have been more than 80 ‘graduates’ of that program of mentoring and education, run by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, he went on, adding that some of them are either incubating in Holyoke or have already moved into their own space within the city.

Holyoke at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1786
Population: 40.280
Area: 22.8 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.17
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.72
Median Household Income: $36,608
Median Family Income: $41,194
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke Community College, ISO New England Inc., PeoplesBank, Universal Plastics, Marox Corp.
* Latest information available

Meanwhile, there are other forms of progress to note across the city, said Morse, listing everything from a rising high-school graduation rate — it was under 50% when he took office, and now it’s closer to 70% — to falling unemployment; from planned revitalization of the former Lynch School just off I-91 (an RFP was recently issued) to needed evolution at the Holyoke Mall.

The mall is one of the city’s important assets, he noted, adding that it brings thousands of people into the city every day. With the retail sector struggling in the wake of emerging forces like Amazon, and malls fighting to keep their spaces filled, the facility in Holyoke is responding with family-oriented tenants that are keeping the parking lots crowded, said the mayor.

“We’ve seen the mall make a number of investments in recent years and add more entertainment options,” he explained. “These include new restaurants, an escape-room place, and a new Cinemark theater that will be coming in.”

As for the graduation rate and improvement at the public schools overall, this is an important ingredient in the overall strategy for Holyoke’s revitalization, said the mayor.

And with continued progress in mind, the city will launch a new high-school model this fall, one based on four different academies focused on career readiness to create more pathways for students.

Planting Seeds

As he talked about cannabis — and everything else going on in Holyoke — Morse joked that Holyoke might soon run out of mill space to offer developers.

When told about that line, Marrero laughed, paused for a second, and said simply, “I hope so — that would be great.”

That’s not likely to happen any time soon, if ever. But that number of available square feet in the mills that gave Holyoke its nickname and its heritage keeps going down.

And cannabis is just one of the reasons. Many of the same character traits that are attracting marijuana growers — from the mills to the highways to a business-friendly City Hall — are attracting other types of businesses as well.

As noted, Morse couldn’t exactly have foreseen the cannabis industry being one of his city’s leading employers when he took office. But he could foresee a time when his staff and the office of Planning and Economic Development would be flooded with calls from people interested in maybe setting up shop in Holyoke.

And not the one in Colorado.

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

Home Builders Landscape Design Sections

Something to Build On

Gisele Gilpatrick says her family’s business, Pro-Tech Waterproofing in Chicopee, typically garners about six months’ worth of business from the Western Mass. Home & Garden show — just not all at once.

“They’ll take our information, but they won’t always call next week,” said Gilpatrick, Pro-Tech’s office manager and the chair of the 64th annual Home & Garden show, slated for March 22-25. “They’ll say, ‘we saw you six months ago, or a year ago, or two years ago. I pulled out your card, because I have a problem now.’”

That’s the value for many of the 350-plus vendors who will set up shop at the Eastern States Exposition on March 22-25. Among those showcasing their products and services will be builders, remodelers, kitchen and bath specialists, landscapers, painters, roofers, financial institutions, pool companies, and more.

“It’s a good chance for people to talk to us one on one about their situation,” Gilpatrick said. “Sometimes it’s easier to visualize things when you talk with someone in person, and people are more comfortable explaining what they need. Sometimes, people think it’s a major project and it’s not, while other times we have to tell them it is major.”

Either way, it’s easy to find answers — and second, third, and fourth opinions — with so many businesses on hand. For that reason and others, the annual event has become the signature showcase for the Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Western Massachusetts, which produces it.

The home show started as a way to generate revenue to support the association, but it also provides member companies with a chance to market to an audience — and a big one, with around 20,000 visitors over the four days in a typical year — that might not otherwise see their name. Conversely, it gives attendees, many of whom simply come to the show for fun, a host of concrete (sometimes literally) ideas for home improvement.

The exhibitors — in more than 90 different categories — run the gamut from inspection services to security and alarm systems; Internet and communications to moving and storage; duct cleaning to pianos and organs.

Show attendees fall into one of several categories, the association notes:

• People planning to buy or build a new home, who may visit with builders, real-estate agents, financial institutions, and sellers of component products, such as hardwood flooring, tile, and appliances;

• People planning to remodel or renovate, who may want to check in with all of the above, plus vendors of replacement components such as windows and doors, as well as appliances, wall treatments, and home furnishings;

• Yard and garden enthusiasts, who tend to be interested in lawn and landscaping services; wall, walk, and edging components and materials; and trees, shrubs, flowers, and seeds;

• Lifestyle-conscious individuals, who like to check out trendy, high-tech, or time-saving products; home furnishings; and products focused on self-improvement, fitness, and health;

• Committed renters, who have no plans to own a house, but may be interested in space-conservation and space-utilization products, as well as home furnishings;

• Impulse buyers, who flock to vendors of home décor, arts and crafts, cooking and baking products, jewelry, and personal goods; and

• Those who attend the show purely for fun, who may arrive without an agenda but often develop ideas for future purchases and home products. “More than any other group,” according to the association, “these people are the ones who have come to rely upon our show on an annual basis and who perhaps have the greatest impact upon our vendors.”

Advice — on the House

In addition to the exhibitors, the four-day event will also include cooking shows, hosted by WMAS radio personalities, in the Home Show Kitchen in the Young Building. Various chefs from restaurants throughout the Pioneer Valley will be on hand to prepare some of their specialties, and audience members can ask them questions, try samples, and have a chance to win gift certificates from some of the establishments.

A children’s area in the Young Building will feature an art exhibit created by students from Thousand Cranes Studio and a chance to participate in creative activities, as well as Melha Shriners clowns and a live butterfly display from Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens. The Koi Society will have a pond built by C J Grounds Maintenance filled with koi fish, kids can get their pictures taken on a go-cart provided by Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting, Looney Tunes characters from Six Flags New England will be on hand, and Rolling Acres Outdoor and Science Summer Camp will help kids conduct science experiments.

Meanwhile, promotions and giveaways include the WMAS Kitchen Giveaway Contest, the Rock 102/Lazer 99.3 Ultimate New England Sports Fan Giveaway, and iHeartRadio’s $25,000 Home Makeover Contest.

In a dedicated outdoor area, several vendors will assemble outdoor structures such as sheds, gazebos, sunrooms, and furniture to spruce up the deck or poolside. Also on display in that area will be the large Beauty in Motion showroom of American Standard products.

Gilpatrick emphasized that the impact of the Home & Garden Show is year-round. “Some people may have a problem that costs $15,000 to fix, and they don’t have $15,000. But come next year, they’ve planned and budgeted, maybe secured financing, basically done what it will take, and that’s when we hear from them again. There’s a lot of that.”

This year’s show hours are Thursday and Friday, March 22-23, 1-9 p.m.; Saturday, March 24, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, March 25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $10 for adults, and children under 12 are admitted free. Discount coupons, available at www.westernmasshomeshow.com, knock $6 off the regular ticket price on Thursday, $4 off the regular price on Friday, and $2 off the regular price on Saturday and Sunday. Veterans and active military with ID receive free admission on Thursday only.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Home Builders Landscape Design Sections

Something to Build On

Gisele Gilpatrick says her family’s business, Pro-Tech Waterproofing in Chicopee, typically garners about six months’ worth of business from the Western Mass. Home & Garden show — just not all at once.

“They’ll take our information, but they won’t always call next week,” said Gilpatrick, Pro-Tech’s office manager and the chair of the 64th annual Home & Garden show, slated for March 22-25. “They’ll say, ‘we saw you six months ago, or a year ago, or two years ago. I pulled out your card, because I have a problem now.’”

That’s the value for many of the 350-plus vendors who will set up shop at the Eastern States Exposition on March 22-25. Among those showcasing their products and services will be builders, remodelers, kitchen and bath specialists, landscapers, painters, roofers, financial institutions, pool companies, and more.

“It’s a good chance for people to talk to us one on one about their situation,” Gilpatrick said. “Sometimes it’s easier to visualize things when you talk with someone in person, and people are more comfortable explaining what they need. Sometimes, people think it’s a major project and it’s not, while other times we have to tell them it is major.”

Either way, it’s easy to find answers — and second, third, and fourth opinions — with so many businesses on hand. For that reason and others, the annual event has become the signature showcase for the Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Western Massachusetts, which produces it.

The home show started as a way to generate revenue to support the association, but it also provides member companies with a chance to market to an audience — and a big one, with around 20,000 visitors over the four days in a typical year — that might not otherwise see their name. Conversely, it gives attendees, many of whom simply come to the show for fun, a host of concrete (sometimes literally) ideas for home improvement.

The exhibitors — in more than 90 different categories — run the gamut from inspection services to security and alarm systems; Internet and communications to moving and storage; duct cleaning to pianos and organs.

Show attendees fall into one of several categories, the association notes:

• People planning to buy or build a new home, who may visit with builders, real-estate agents, financial institutions, and sellers of component products, such as hardwood flooring, tile, and appliances;

• People planning to remodel or renovate, who may want to check in with all of the above, plus vendors of replacement components such as windows and doors, as well as appliances, wall treatments, and home furnishings;

• Yard and garden enthusiasts, who tend to be interested in lawn and landscaping services; wall, walk, and edging components and materials; and trees, shrubs, flowers, and seeds;

• Lifestyle-conscious individuals, who like to check out trendy, high-tech, or time-saving products; home furnishings; and products focused on self-improvement, fitness, and health;

• Committed renters, who have no plans to own a house, but may be interested in space-conservation and space-utilization products, as well as home furnishings;

• Impulse buyers, who flock to vendors of home décor, arts and crafts, cooking and baking products, jewelry, and personal goods; and

• Those who attend the show purely for fun, who may arrive without an agenda but often develop ideas for future purchases and home products. “More than any other group,” according to the association, “these people are the ones who have come to rely upon our show on an annual basis and who perhaps have the greatest impact upon our vendors.”

Advice — on the House

In addition to the exhibitors, the four-day event will also include cooking shows, hosted by WMAS radio personalities, in the Home Show Kitchen in the Young Building. Various chefs from restaurants throughout the Pioneer Valley will be on hand to prepare some of their specialties, and audience members can ask them questions, try samples, and have a chance to win gift certificates from some of the establishments.

A children’s area in the Young Building will feature an art exhibit created by students from Thousand Cranes Studio and a chance to participate in creative activities, as well as Melha Shriners clowns and a live butterfly display from Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens. The Koi Society will have a pond built by C J Grounds Maintenance filled with koi fish, kids can get their pictures taken on a go-cart provided by Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting, Looney Tunes characters from Six Flags New England will be on hand, and Rolling Acres Outdoor and Science Summer Camp will help kids conduct science experiments.

Meanwhile, promotions and giveaways include the WMAS Kitchen Giveaway Contest, the Rock 102/Lazer 99.3 Ultimate New England Sports Fan Giveaway, and iHeartRadio’s $25,000 Home Makeover Contest.

In a dedicated outdoor area, several vendors will assemble outdoor structures such as sheds, gazebos, sunrooms, and furniture to spruce up the deck or poolside. Also on display in that area will be the large Beauty in Motion showroom of American Standard products.

Gilpatrick emphasized that the impact of the Home & Garden Show is year-round. “Some people may have a problem that costs $15,000 to fix, and they don’t have $15,000. But come next year, they’ve planned and budgeted, maybe secured financing, basically done what it will take, and that’s when we hear from them again. There’s a lot of that.”

This year’s show hours are Thursday and Friday, March 22-23, 1-9 p.m.; Saturday, March 24, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, March 25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $10 for adults, and children under 12 are admitted free. Discount coupons, available at www.westernmasshomeshow.com, knock $6 off the regular ticket price on Thursday, $4 off the regular price on Friday, and $2 off the regular price on Saturday and Sunday. Veterans and active military with ID receive free admission on Thursday only.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

The aerial map of Springfield behind Kevin Kennedy

The aerial map of Springfield behind Kevin Kennedy, taken just a few years ago, would look very different today, and that’s a good thing, he says.

To say projects are coming to fruition in Springfield is a bit of an understatement these days, with a $950 million casino opening downtown in September, following right on the heels of the $90 million Union Station renovation and the $95 million CRRC MA plant on the former Westinghouse site, which is expected to begin producing rail cars for the MBTA this year.

Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, cited those projects at the start of a recent conversation with BusinessWest because they have been, in many ways, the most prominent signs of economic momentum in Springfield. But they’re only three among dozens of moving pieces coming together to generate real excitement in the City of Homes.

“We’re calling it ‘the year of the new Springfield,’” he said.

And it needs to be, considering that the casino, if projections are correct, will draw 12,000 to 15,000 visitors per day, perhaps more at the start. Meanwhile, the Hartford rail line into Union Station may bring up to 2,000 people a day, in addition to the usual PVTA and Peter Pan bus traffic.

“A lot of people will be coming through Springfield; it will be a completely different area in terms of foot traffic,” Kennedy said, noting that restaurants, retail, and entertainment options in the area will get a boost — possibly a big one.

“Bruno Mars, who just cleaned up in the Grammys, plays MGM in Las Vegas. Lady Gaga performs at MGM facilities. There’s Cirque de Soleil … these are things that, from an entertainment point of view, Springfield could only wish for,” he said, adding that the sheer possibilities have people excited.

But it’s important, he said, not to simply let the wave of MGM visitors happen, but to pair the casino’s opening with an image campaign to let people know what else Springfield and the surrounding region have to offer. After all, it’s not every day that a business opens with the potential of bringing thousands of people into the city every day who would otherwise not be there.

And, indeed, there’s much more than nightlife afoot downtown; for example, the innovation economy that has taken root with entities like Tech Foundry, TechSpring, and Valley Venture Mentors has created a fertile environment for ideas to turn into cutting-edge companies.

Meanwhile, “I never thought we’d see the day that we were creating market-rate housing in our downtown,” Kennedy said, citing the 265 units in the SilverBrick Lofts and a planned transformation of the old YMCA on Chestnut Street into 114 market-rate units, not to mention the rehabilitation of the Willys-Overland building into 60 market-rate units.

“Developers are telling me there’s room for 300 more units in terms of demand,” he added, noting that such downtown housing tends to attract the younger demographic a city needs to remain vital — and the arrival of MGM Springfield ties into that as well. “Millennials love first-class entertainment. The pieces all fit.”

Those pieces include persuading people who visit Springfield, some for the first time, to explore what else the city has to offer.

For instance, “we have two things nobody else has — the Dr. Seuss museum and the Basketball Hall of Fame,” Kennedy noted. The latter is embarking on a major, $25 million renovation, while the former continues to smash attendance records at the Springfield Museums, drawing visitors from all 50 states and around the world (see story on page 39).

Kennedy drew on an apt analogy for the Hall of Fame when talking about the way Springfield is currently promoting itself. “We do some coaching and try to keep the team together, but the most important part is getting the players to play,” he said. “All the citizens and businesses, they’re the real stars of the show right now. Everyone wants to something — the chamber, the cultural council, the EDC, all these are partnerships, and they’ve taken the ball and run with it. Every major organization has stepped forward.”

Made for Walking

One of those downtown partners, the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD), recently signed onto the first cultural compact in the state, an agreement among the city, the district, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and state leaders that solidifies the city’s recognition of the arts as an economic-development activity.

But the SCCD has long been promoting and installing public art as a means of ramping up creative placemaking to boost the walkability and attractiveness of the downtown.

“I think that’s something we’ve focused on since the beginning of the cultural district — increasing walkability, not just to drive visitors to a destination, but for add-ons,” said SCCD Executive Director Morgan Drewniany, before explaining what that means. “Say someone is here for MGM, and they’re walking between the bowling alley there and a restaurant. If the streetscape between those places is attractive and funky and cool, you might take that extra step and keep walking, instead of stopping at the place that’s easiest.”

That’s the goal of turning the streetscape — through public art, bustling storefronts, and increased safety measures — into an attraction in itself, so if someone arrives in the city to visit MGM and maybe the Seuss museum, they might be compelled to stick around and check out more destinations.

SEE: Springfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1852
Population: 156,000
Area: 33.1 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.68
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.28
Median Household Income: $34,311
Median family Income: $39,535
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Medical Center; MassMutual Financial Group; Big Y; Mercy Medical Center; Center for Human Development; American Outdoor Brands Corp.
Latest information available

The city, meanwhile, has embarked on revitalization projects at Stearns Square, Pynchon Place, and Riverfront Park, and is looking into restaurants installing ‘bumpouts’ onto the sidewalk for outdoor seating. Meanwhile, a pedestrian wayfinding system downtown and a coming bike-share program will further create a sense of vitality for residents and visitors alike, Kennedy said.

Perhaps most important is a city-wide reduction in crime that officials attribute to a number of factors, from an increase in police officers to leadership classes in the department to a computer program on laptops in cruisers that pinpoint where recent crimes have occurred and allows police officers to read reports about them.

One of the most notable changes has been the expansion of C3 (community) policing in vulnerable neighborhoods where high levels of poverty, truancy, and healthcare problems exist. Special police units have been created and put in place in four areas: Mason Square, the South End, the North End, and lower Forest Park.

Downtown, that public-safety momentum will take the form of a new substation and three police kiosks, Kennedy said, adding that Police Commissioner John Barberi understands the connection between safe streets and economic development.

“The things he’s done have been nothing but supportive. The concept of police kiosks and substations will not only make the downtown safer, but will free up police in other neighborhoods when they’re not answering calls downtown. All the neighborhoods benefit.”

The police force, in fact, was one of the earliest adopters of Drewniany’s arts-is-safety philosophy and her belief that more public art can increase foot traffic, which in turn raises the perception of safety, which then actually increases safety. “Criminals aren’t hanging out doing whatever they want to do in a place that’s active with pedestrians,” she said. “It follows the same idea as the police kiosks. If people feel like it’s a safe place, it will actually be a safe place.”

Meanwhile, MGM made a commitment to spend $1.5 million annually for 15 years to create and maintain a public-safety district downtown due to the traffic it will bring to the city. The district runs from the south end of Mill Street to Union Station, and from Riverfront Park up to the Quadrangle.

All the Right Moves

As for the casino, Kennedy said the way the city handled the process of securing MGM made sense.

“We were fortunate to take the right tack in how to approach the gaming question, to not marry any individual suitor. We courted multiple suitors, created competition, and created leverage,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would deny we ended up with a top-flight company in MGM that created a perception outside of Springfield that we were ready to do business in the right way.”

He credited former Gov. Deval Patrick for sowing many of the seeds for some of the city’s recent flagship developments, including a $350,000 planning grant in 2008 to get Union Station renovated. “He was the one who said to those that wanted to provide rail cars for the MBTA, ‘look west.’ And I think we picked the right mix of things, and have been fortunate with major investments like MGM but also making a transition to the innovation economy downtown. All kinds of pieces of the plan worked.”

And it’s not just new entities creating excitement, he added.

“What MassMutual did recently, by bringing 1,500 people into their home office, really solidifies its future here in Springfield,” he noted. “They’re also bringing anywhere from 500 to 1,000 employees into Boston, which is also really good for Springfield because it gives us a footprint in the state capital.”

That, along with Big Y’s just-announced expansion of its distribution center, are two examples of how large, legacy companies remain a vital force, even with all the buzz generated by the startup economy. “Not only are we bringing in outside companies, but our existing companies are expanding. It’s all great news for Springfield.”

Kennedy also credited Mayor Domenic Sarno and other officials for not thinking parochially and understanding the value of regional connections, which include the development of more rail platforms along the north-south line that connects Connecticut and Vermont. “We can’t discount the importance of Union Station for the simple reason that rail transportation is going to become more and more important.”

As for that ‘new Springfield,’ Kennedy traces the recent resurgence in the city, and especially its downtown, to the construction of the federal courthouse on State Street in 2008. In many ways, that project launched a decade of impressive development, culminating in a 2018 that many people probably couldn’t have envisioned back then, when none of these major projects were on the horizon and the national economy was tanking.

“That gave you the confidence that you could really do something,” he told BusinessWest. “And what we’re seeing now isn’t smoke and mirrors; they’re not just feel-good things. These things are real.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Tourism & Hospitality

Pushing the Envelope

Additions at the food court

Additions at the food court comprise just one prong in a broad strategic initiative at Bradley International Airport to improve the customer experience.

Kevin Dillon recalled that, when he first started working at airports in mid-’70s, they were run almost like government facilities.

Translation: there were few, if any, frills, customer service was hardly a priority, and the notion of generating repeat customers didn’t really exist because, for the most part, customers didn’t have any choice but to return.

All that has changed over the ensuing decades, of course. Fliers do have choices, especially in this part of he country, where there are several airports within a two-hour drive. And they make their choices based on a variety of factors, but especially convenience and the quality of their experience (after all, they’re spending at least a few hours there, on average).

So today, every airport wants to be the airport of choice, including Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, said Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA), which took over management of the facility in 2013.

And there are many factors that go into that equation, from the number of flights and, more specifically, the number of non-stop flights to the number and quality of restaurants at the facility; from ease of movement through the flying process to the overall customer experience.

And Bradley has been addressing all of them, said Dillon, referencing recent developments ranging from new non-stop service to St. Louis to a new $200 million transportation transit facility set to move off the drawing board (more on that later), to the addition of therapy dogs to help those anxious about flying.

“What we’re about at Bradley is convenience,” he told BusinessWest. “We know that’s what we’re selling as an airport, whether that’s convenient access to the airport or convenience once you get to the facility. So we have focused on improving overall customer service and the customer experience.”

Initiatives on these fronts are generating results that can be quantified in a number of ways, said Dillon, who started with the five consecutive years of year-over-year passenger growth Bradley has enjoyed since the CAA took over in 2013. That includes a 6.2% spike in 2017. He also noted that Condé Nast Traveler ranked Bradley the fifth-best airport in the U.S. it its latest Readers’ Choice Awards.

But while the passenger-growth numbers and votes from Condé Nast readers are compelling, Dillon said the airport has to keep pushing the envelope (that’s an aviation term, sort of) and find new and better ways to improve the customer experience.

“The airport business has become extremely competitive,” he noted. “So we’re constantly looking to differentiate ourselves from other options that travelers in our region have; we want to be that airport of choice, but we do know that travelers have options, so we have to keep looking for ways to improve the experience.”

For this issue and its focus on tourism and hospitality, BusinessWest talked at length with Dillon about Bradley’s focus on convenience and the many forms this mission takes.

Soaring Expectations

Perhaps the most obvious, and most important, aspect of customer service, Dillon said, is the number of flights being offered, or route development, as he called it.

And over the past several years, the airport has been working to add new flights for the convenience of all travelers, but especially business travelers.

“We know business travelers are looking for a greater menu of non-stop services at Bradley, so we’ve put a lot of attention and focus on development in general,” Dillon explained. “When we first took over the airport, we focused on bringing in West Coast connectivity as well as trans-Atlantic connectivity, and we’ve been able to accomplish both goals.”

With the former, the airport has added a popular flight to Los Angeles, he noted, and last year, seasonal, non-stop service to San Francisco was added to the portfolio, and efforts are ongoing to offer that service year-round.

Kevin Dillon

Kevin Dillon

Also, through the addition of carrier of Spirit Airlines, there are now a number of direct flights into a number of Florida cities, including Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, and Fort Myers.

As for the latter, the daily Aer Lingus flight to Dublin introduced in September 2016 has becoming increasingly popular with area business and leisure flyers looking for a more convenient way to get to Europe than driving to and then flying out of Boston, New York, or New Jersey.

“That’s because it’s not only connectivity to Dublin, it’s connectivity to all of Europe,” said Dillon. “And there are 26 major cities that you can connect to very conveniently in Dublin with this flight.”

The overseas flight has thus far met or exceeded expectations, and the response from the business community has had a lot to do with that, he said, adding that, as might be expected, leisure travel to Europe drops off considerably in the fall and winter, and the business side of the equation has helped keep the planes reasonably full year-round.

As for the experience at the airport itself, those at Bradley have been attentive to this piece of the puzzle as well, said Dillon, focusing on such matters as security lead times, check-in times at the airline counters, the menu of restaurants, and, yes, programs such as therapy dogs.

When it comes to eateries, Phillips Seafood and Two Roads Brewery have been added to the mix in recent months, and they’ve been very well received, said Dillon, adding that travelers will likely have a decent amount of time to spend at such facilities because of efforts to help the process of getting bags checked and travelers through security.

Overall, there are some things an airport cannot control — travelers will still be asked to arrive 90 minutes before a flight, especially if it’s an international flight — but there are many things it can control, and those are the factors Bradley is focused on, said Dillon.

This extends, as he noted earlier, to access to the airport, and also what happens after one leaves.

And this mindset explains the facility’s new transportation center, now in the final design stages, which is being built to improve the overall customer experience.

“You’ll be able to fly into Bradley and connect via a walkway to this new facility right across from the terminal to get your rental car,” he explained. “No longer will you have to take a bus to that rental-car facility.”

The transportation facility will also serve as a transit hub for the various bus services into and out of Bradley, as a connecting point to the rail line that now connects Southern Connecticut with Springfield.

“We’re working to have every one of those trains stop at Windsor Locks, which is considered the airport train station, and then we’ll connect the new transportation center to the Windsor Locks train station via high-frequency bus service,” Dillon explained, adding that the ultimate goal is to directly connect the airport to that station with light rail.

Such rail connections will ultimately make life more convenient to business and leisure travelers alike, he went on, adding that they can fly into Bradley and connect, via rail, to a host of other cities, similar to how it’s done in Europe.

Plane Speaking

When the CAA took over operations at Bradley, it was handling roughly 5.5 million passengers a year. Fewer than five years later, the total is 6.5 million.

That’s a significant increase that came about through a broad, multi-faceted approach to improving convenience and the overall customer experience.

But as they say in this business, Bradley is merely gaining altitude. It can soar much higher still, and Dillon and his team are committed to doing just that.

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

Class of 2018 Difference Makers

Bob Bolduc Cooks Up New Ways to Better the Lives of Young People

005_bolducbob-diff2017When Mavis Wanczyk scored the single largest lottery win in U.S. history last August — with a ticket purchased at a Pride station in Chicopee — she wasn’t the only winner. No, the store — meaning its owner, Bob Bolduc — got a $50,000 bonus from the state as well.

A few weeks later, Bolduc distributed $1,000 checks to more than 20 Springfield elementary schools to help teachers make classroom purchases they’d normally have to pay for out of pocket. The rest of the 50 grand was distributed among a variety of youth- and education-centric organizations that Bolduc already supports year-round.

“I decided to give it to the kids,” he told BusinessWest, shrugging off any suggestion that it was a tough call. “It’s a windfall; it’s not my money. So it was an easy decision to make.”

Mary Anne’s Kids was another recipient of a $1,000 bonus. An arm of the Center for Human Development, it’s a fund that provides opportunities for children in foster care that would not typically be paid for by the state, from summer camps to extra-curricular programs.

We didn’t even ask for it; he just gave it to us. He’s the grandfather of Mary Anne’s Kids, and a wonderful man. He’s been a godsend to our program.”

“We didn’t even ask for it; he just gave it to us,” said Jim Williams, the fund’s long-time director, before detailing some of the ways Pride’s support of Mary Anne’s Kids through the years makes the $1,000 gift, really, just a drop in the bucket. “He’s the grandfather of Mary Anne’s Kids, and a wonderful man. He’s been a godsend to our program.”

Indeed, since its inception and for more than a decade since, Bolduc has contributed significant dollars to “children who otherwise would not have funds to go to college, go to prom, all the extraordinary things your children and mine have the opportunity to do,” Williams explained. “Bob has basically been our big-ticket guy. He was there when we started, and he’s been there every year.”

Take, for example, the $20,000 or so worth of gifts that pour in every December from Chistmas trees set up in all Pride stores, adorned with tags listing a child’s age, gender, and gift request. Customers buy most of them, and Bolduc covers the rest. And as the holiday approaches, he closes the diner he owns off Mass Pike exit 6 in Chicopee and hosts 120 foster children for a party with Santa Claus.

Williams said Bolduc has personally funded purchases ranging from a handicap-accessible bicycle to a gravestone for one foster child’s brother, who was killed in a drive-by shooting.

“I can tell you this: throughout my career at CHD, Bob has been such a genuine man,” Williams said. “I can’t tell enough good things about him.”

When he sat down with BusinessWest, Bolduc characterized supporting one’s community as an imperative for local businesses, one he came to understand early in his career building the Pride empire, when he and his wife became involved with a number of nonprofits and he began to recognize the needs they had.

“Every nonprofit needs money,” he said. “So I called the people we buy from — Coke, Frito-Lay, all the big companies — and asked, ‘would you give me some money for this little nonprofit that’s trying to help people?’ They’d say, ‘no, we only do national ones — March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Society, American Cancer Society — so we can’t give to all the local companies.’

“A light went off for me — ‘a-ha! If they can’t give, who’s going to give? It’s got to be the little guy,’” he continued. “That’s when we decided to put all our money locally. And it was a no-brainer. The more nonprofits you get involved with, the more you realize how many needs there are, how many kids are really hurting.”

Indeed, kids — youth welfare and education, to be specific — are the beating heart of Bolduc’s philanthropic bent. To name just a few examples:

• Pride recently raised $10,000 to support Square One’s work with high-risk children and families;

• Bolduc has been a business partner for Lincoln Elementary School in Springfield, where he sends volunteer readers and donates supplies as requested. He and his wife also supply hats, mittens, and socks for all the students. “We realized these kids don’t have hats and gloves for wintertime — some of them don’t even have toothbrushes,” he said. “This is happening right here, in Springfield”;

• Pride participated in a North End Community Task Force dealing with gang violence and related problems;

• In partnership with Brightside for Children and Families, Bolduc provided a van outfitted as a mobile library, as well as a driver and warehouse space. The van travels around the area in the summer, providing kids with summer reading books;

• Pride collaborates with WMAS on its annual Coats for Kids campaign; and

• The company regularly fund-raises for various causes such as Wounded Warriors and Puerto Rico hurricane relief, by supplying donation cans at all Pride stores.

But what makes Bolduc a true Difference Maker, as if his philanthropy weren’t enough, is the way he sees his role as not just a businessman, but someone with the opportunity to impact individual lives — of kids in need, yes, but also his employees, many of whom come from poverty — and watch as they turn around and collectively impact their communities for the better.

Food for Thought

Born in Indian Orchard, Bolduc graduated from Notre Dame University with a degree in mechanical engineering, then earned an MBA at Purdue University, before returning to his home state.

After working as a quality engineer at American Bosch in the 1960s, he enlisted in the Army and served in Vietnam. Back in the States, he briefly went to work at his father’s gas station in Indian Orchard in 1970 before buying him out, thus becoming the third generation of the family to run that business — a business, by the way, that just marked its 100th anniversary.

Bob Bolduc and Pride Stores President Marsha Del Monte (right) present a $10,000 check

Bob Bolduc and Pride Stores President Marsha Del Monte (right) present a $10,000 check to Square One’s Kristine Allard and President and CEO Joan Kagan.

In addition to running the station, Bolduc became a tire and auto-parts wholesaler, specifically a distributor for BF Goodrich and Continental, and became proficient enough at it to be chosen to address a national sales convention of Goodrich retailers at age 30.

But in 1976, he made the shift that would define his career, buying a self-serve gas station in Indian Orchard. Over the years, he would gradually expand his business, creating the chain of stores known today as Pride. But, more importantly, he developed a reputation as an industry innovator by marrying the self-service station with another emerging phenomenon, the convenience store.

Other innovations would follow; Pride would eventually become the first chain in Western Mass. to put a Dunkin’ Donuts in the stores, then the first to incorporate a Subway. But where the company has really made a name, in recent years, is with its own fresh-food production.

“The industry has gone from repair shops to convenience stores, then convenience stores started selling coffee,” Bolduc recalled. “The convenience stores got bigger — lots bigger — and started selling more food items, then they got even bigger, to what we call superstores; we’re talking stores between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet, with at least six pumps, sometimes eight or 10, and selling lots more food items.”

But several factors have hit convenience stores hard in recent years, he noted. Fuel efficiency is up. People are driving less, and public transportation has improved. Cigarette sales are way down, and online lottery purchases are cutting into in-store sales.

“All these things that drive our business are disappearing, and we’re looking at a business where the future expectation is for decreased sales, not increased sales,” he noted.

On the other hand, “people still have to eat three times a day, and they’re looking for convenience all the time, and families aren’t sitting down for breakfast and lunch anymore, and sometimes not even dinner; they’re buying food at restaurants or convenience stores.”

The goal, then, he said, has been to improve food quality at Pride to the point where people will see the chain not as a gas station that sells food, but as a food store that sells gas.

To support that shift, the Pride Kitchen, located at the company’s headquarters on Cottage Street in Springfield, runs two shifts of staff making fresh sandwiches, salads, fruit and yogurt parfaits, and — in a bakery that opened in 2017 — fresh muffins, donuts, cookies, brownies, and pastries. A third shift belongs to the drivers who bring all this fresh fare to stores across the region, making food service at Pride a truly 24-hour operation.

Newer stores feature a Pride Grill, where morning visitors can down fresh-cooked eggs before picking up a made-to-order sandwich for lunch at the deli, as well as drive-thru windows and mobile ordering. This isn’t, as Bolduc noted repeatedly, the convenience-store food of the past.

By studying trends and repositioning the company as a place where revenues will grow, not decrease, he’s not only boosting his own bottom line, but also the gaggle of nonprofits, schools, and individuals that benefit from his philanthropy.

See the Need, Meet the Need

It’s a passion, he said, that was sparked during his time at Notre Dame, when he volunteered in a disadvantaged area of Chicago during spring break.

“That was an eye-opener,” he said. “We stayed with an African-American family with a 14-year-old boy. We brought him to see a Blackhawks game because he liked hockey. That was the first time he’d ever been downtown.”

Having grown up in a family with a successful business, he saw up close for the first time how not everyone had the resources he took for granted. Once he and his wife, who also had a heart for volunteerism, resettled in Springfield and found success with Pride, they got involved in a number of nonprofit boards, and — thanks to his failed pitches to the likes of Coke and Frito-Lay — quickly came to understand the importance of local philanthropy.

The Pride stores themselves often function as vehicles for this work, such as his partnership with Square One. He and the early-education provider came up with the idea of selling ‘Square One squares’ at Pride locations for a dollar, where donors could write their names on squares to be posted at the cashier’s counter.

“Bob took the donations and matched a portion of them, rounding them up to a $10,000 gift to Square One, which was awesome,” said Kristine Allard, chief development and communication officer at Square One.

After Mavis Wanczyk scored her record-breaking jackpot at this Chicopee Pride station, Bob Bolduc distributed the store’s $50,000 bonus “windfall” to dozens of schools and nonprofits.

After Mavis Wanczyk scored her record-breaking jackpot at this Chicopee Pride station, Bob Bolduc distributed the store’s $50,000 bonus “windfall” to dozens of schools and nonprofits.

“That’s the kind of thing we rely on the business community for, to provide us funding to offset where our greatest expenses are,” she added. “When we’re able to approach someone like Bob, who understands that and sees the value in that, it helps us get the word out to other businesses, and we can leverage those dollars and leverage those opportunities to show other businesses what Pride is doing for our community. So it’s good for his business and good for Square One.”

Bolduc wishes more businesses could understand that synergy — or at least acknowledge the needs that exist.

“There are more than 200 homeless kids in the city school system, who go back to shelters at night,” he said. “People don’t know that they don’t go home; they go to shelters. Or, they don’t know that Square One gives kids a better meal on Friday, because they’re not going to get another good meal until they go back to school Monday morning. This is in Springfield. It becomes pretty obvious when you dig deeper and you see it — then you say, sure, the American Heart Association is wonderful, but the big people are taking care of them. The more you see locally, the more involved you get.”

Allard, for one, appreciates that attitude.

“From a development standpoint, from a fund-raising standpoint, it’s really refreshing to see someone who thinks the way he does,” she told BusinessWest. “By supporting the work of nonprofits, it’s good for his business, which is good for his employees. By investing in the work being done to help the community, it works out for everybody.”

On the Way Up

Bolduc was quick to note that his company has long supported arts, hospitals, and religious institutions — the types of entities that create quality of life in a community. But perhaps the most critical component is education, particularly in a city — Springfield — where around half of high-schoolers drop out. He says efforts to change that have to start early, which explains his support of Square One.

“If you don’t get a good education, you can’t get a decent job, and the cycle continues. So what’s the one solution to break the cycle? Education.”

He noted that the first person in a family to attend college is usually not the last, which is why he and his wife provide scholarships to area students. “That’s my message — we need to support education and help kids break out of the cycle.”

But he’s helping them break out in more ways than one. Since transforming one of Springfield’s most visible eyesores, at the foot of the North End Bridge, into a thriving Pride superstore almost a decade ago, he has drawn a steady stream of young employees from a neighborhood with high levels of poverty, and helped them embark on careers. And soon, he plans to do the same with new store in the McKnight area of Mason Square.

“At Pride, we’re happy with the fact that we provide jobs and careers,” he said. “We don’t have a human resources department; it’s called Career Development. We are very happy to take a young person who wants to grow and teach them the business and watch them grow up into management, provide for their families, bring in relatives and, in some cases, their kids as they get older. We’re very proud of that.”

The McKnight Neighborhood Council unanimously endorsed the development, he added. “They asked, ‘will you employ local people?’ We said, ‘100%.’”

He noted that the North End Pride station has seen crime drop significantly in the area over the past five years, thanks to the community policing program he has supported, but also, perhaps, due to growing employment opportunities like the ones Pride provides.

“These are good people. I tell them, ‘come to work every day, and we’ll teach you and give you good pay,’ and there’s an amazing turnaround. Some don’t take to it, but a lot of them do. We see the success stories. My goal is to someday see them do the same things for someone else. It’s that simple.”

That legacy and culture Bolduc aims to create is why, seven years after being named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for his innovative business growth, he is now being recognized as a Difference Maker, recognizing far more impactful successes.

“These are his future employees and his future customers,” Allard said. “We need to invest in our youth. If we’re not looking at our youth as the future of our community, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice.”

That’s a message Bolduc wants every local business to hear, and to respond to in any way they can afford, because the needs never go away.

“For anyone who wants to get involved, give me a call,” he said, “because I guarantee you’ll get more out of it then you put it.”

That investment doesn’t have to be a $50,000 lottery windfall, but such good fortune certainly doesn’t hurt.

“He’s a great person,” Allard said. “When that [lottery] news came out, no one would have minded had he kept it. But he said, ‘why not give it away?’ It was really refreshing to hear that.”

For a career spent saying ‘why not?’ — in both his business and the community — Bob Bolduc has plenty to take pride in, as he continues to make a difference.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Class of 2018 Difference Makers

Evan Plotkin Works to Fill in the Canvas Known as Springfield

006_plotkinevan-diff2017The small bronze plaque is starting to show its age.

Fastened to a rectangular stone near the former Court Square Hotel and the old Hampden County Courthouse, it proudly celebrates work done to clean up a walkway that connects Court Square with State Street. It reads:

COURT HOUSE WALK, one of the city’s most charming and historic landmarks, was restored by the Junior League of Springfield Massachusetts Incorporated in cooperation with the City of Springfield, 1979.

Evan Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, can’t really see this plaque from the south-facing window in his office on the 14th floor of 1350 Main St. (although he can see quite a bit, as will be noted later). But he references it when he can because, in many ways, it, like similar milestones around the city, presents a perfect segue into a discussion about what drives his efforts to revitalize Springfield, especially through the arts and restoration and celebration of existing treasures ranging from parks and fountains to the Connecticut River.

“You can almost imagine the ceremony there, with media standing by and the public officials, and everyone making a proclamation and galvanizing it on a plaque on the ground,” he told BusinessWest as he looked out his window and gestured toward the walkway. “There are a lot of plaques like that around the city, and they all say, in essence, ‘this is a commitment that we made, and we put in bronze, presumably so it would last longer than we are going to last so that future generations will know that at one time we had this vision of doing something.’

“When I first saw that plaque, and saw there were dead rats along that sidewalk and all the lights were out, I said, ‘this is not the vision that they had,’” Plotkin went on. “They had a vision of connecting this beautiful park to another very important commercial district with something special.”

There are, as he noted, a great many stories like that walkway scattered across downtown Springfield and beyond. Stearns Square is one of them. Pynchon Park, the elaborate, much-heralded space built in the late ’70s to connect the Quadrangle with the central business district and abandoned soon after it opened, is another. There’s also Riverfront Park, the Apremont Triangle area, and many more.

There are plaques at some of those sites, but there were gatherings of people and celebrations at all of them, said Plotkin, who has committed his adult life to restoring … well, something approximating what it was that people were celebrating when they gathered, made speeches, and maybe cut a ribbon.

In the case of that walkway, for example, Plotkin made sure that it was part of City Mosaic, what amounts to a giant mural on the Court Square property that he helped bring to fruition, one that features the likenesses of dozens of celebrities, from the Beatles to Louis Armstrong. Judy Garland, Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley, and John Lennon are among those who can be seen on the walkway portion of the mural.

plotkinplaguecourthousewalk

There are many other examples of Plotkin’s work to re-energize and enliven Springfield — from his hard work to revitalize the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival to his efforts to lead the Art & Soles public art project that placed colorful sneakers around downtown, to his success in turning 1350 Main into a kind of art gallery.

And there are many things, beyond those aforementioned plaques, inspiring Plotkin as he goes about this wide-ranging work. Part of it is what he fondly remembers from his youth, a half-century ago, when he, like countless others who grew up near the City of Homes, would get on a bus on a Saturday morning, travel to downtown Springfield, and spend literally all day there — at Johnson’s Bookstore, Herman’s World of Sporting Goods, Forbes & Wallace, the movie theaters, Friendly’s, and countless other destinations.

Another part of it is what he’s seen during his many trips to Europe, where squares and plazas in Rome, Madrid, Venice, Amsterdam, and other cultural centers are filled, not just with tourists, but locals.

Another part of it is recognition not of what Springfield was — 50 years ago or 150 years ago, for that matter — but what it could be. Especially at a time when we are told urban living is making a comeback, that Millennials want to live in places where they may not have to drive, that downtowns are hot again.

But what probably drives him most is the fact that not all downtowns are hot, and not all cities are attracting Millennials and retiring Baby Boomers alike.

No, only those cities that can create an attractive mix of things to do, places to live, cultural amenities, and a sense of safety and comfort are making their way into that category.

Plotkin has made what amounts to a second career out of efforts to make Springfield one of those cities. And for his tireless — and we mean tireless — efforts, he is certainly worthy of the designation Difference Maker.

Art of the Matter

Getting back to what Plotkin can see out his windows … there’s plenty, as we noted. There’s the river, the South End and the casino rising there, and, yes, Court Square, in which there is a slightly larger plaque he can actually see and took the opportunity to point out.

It commemorates the Parsons Tavern, which stood on that site. It was there that George Washington was “entertained” — it doesn’t say anything about him sleeping there — on June 30, 1775 while traveling on horseback from Philadelphia to Cambridge to take command of the American forces. And he stopped there again 14 years later, this time as president of the young country, while traveling by coach through the New England states.

Evan Plotkin with some examples of his ‘food art.’

Evan Plotkin with some examples of his ‘food art.’

“There are neat plaques and monuments like that all over the city, and most people don’t know they’re there,” said Plotkin, who pointed out another — the lion’s-head fountain on the east side of the square that was restored several years ago.

But Plotkin certainly doesn’t restrict his interests and his activity to what he can see out the window. Indeed, he walks the city pretty much on a daily basis, usually with his dog, George, at his side. While he’s walking, he’s always taking mental notes, he said, and thinking about what was, in some cases, and about what can be in all cases.

A real-estate broker and manager by trade, Plotkin is also an artist. The area once occupied by Santander Bank’s lobby at 1350 Main St., which Plotkin co-owns, has many of his works on display. They include some sculptures and a large collection of photos of images (mostly faces) he created on his plate by arranging various foods just so. Really.

“I call it food art, or face food — it’s a little goofy,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s not really a genre, it’s just something I do.”

So, in many respects, Plotkin the artist sees Springfield as his canvas, one that he is filling in through his various endeavors. Looked at another way, though — and this is probably the more accurate description — Springfield itself is a work of art in need of restoration work, and Plotkin, the artist but also the community activist, Springfield champion, and sometimes (often?) pain in the neck to those in City Hall, is heavily involved in that restoration work.

Overall, while his artistic portfolio is mostly about positioning meats and vegetables, his work with and on behalf of the city amounts to what he calls “activating space,” with ‘activating’ taking many forms.

They include everything from revitalizing spaces or facilities — such as the fountain at Stearns Square, which has been dismantled for repairs — to bringing vibrancy to a given location, such as efforts he’s led to bring the Springfield Jazz & Roots festival to Court Square (more on that later).

Plotkin’s not sure when he started doing all this, but as he looks back, he believes he’s pretty much always been involved in such efforts.

Speaking of looking back, Plotkin did a lot of it as he talked with BusinessWest, recalling, for example, those bus trips downtown, visits to the family business’s offices on Dwight Street, and walks with his father and grandfather through a much different downtown Springfield.

“All the shop owners, whether they were a furrier or a hatter or a print shop … all these different store owners would be out talking with people, and my grandfather knew every one of them,” he remembered. “It seemed like a really great community of small businesses, family businesses, and I think this is something that’s been lost in the downtown.”

The rise of the automobile and the construction of roads like I-91, I-291, and I-391 played a big part in this transformation, he went on, adding that, as people and businesses left for the suburbs and malls, downtown lost its vibrancy as well as its appeal.

But in some cities, he said, a reversal of that transformation is taking place, with people moving back downtown and cities putting more emphasis on infrastructure for pedestrians and bicycles and dedicating less space to surface parking lots, for example.

Can the same happen in Springfield? Plotkin offered what amounts to a ‘yes, but…’ And by that, he meant that there is still considerable work to do.

Past Is Prologue

Plotkin knows better than anyone that there is no turning back the clock to 1969, to those bus trips to downtown and on to Johnson’s bookstore, stops at the typewriter repair shop or record store while walking around.

But there can be a return to the type of vibrancy that existed then, he went on, adding that Springfield can be one of those cities to capitalize on the apparent surge in urban living and the return of the downtown.

When helping to bringing City Mosaic to reality, Evan Plotkin made sure Court House Walk was included in the project.

When helping to bringing City Mosaic to reality, Evan Plotkin made sure Court House Walk was included in the project.

Much will have to go right, he admits, and the city will have to somehow answer that perplexing urban version of the chicken-or-egg question, which goes something like: ‘which comes first — the people or the restaurants, coffee shops, retail, and jobs?’ The theory goes that you can’t have one without the other.

Plotkin believes the city needs to be focused on both sides of the equation at the same time, and especially the part about getting people here. All those other things will follow, he said.

But to get people here, the city must be more livable, he said, meaning it must be safe and vibrant, have places for people to live, offer culture, and provide an infrastructure that, as noted, is far more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

And he’s focused on all of the above through his work to activate spaces.

With that, he recalled his most recent trip to Europe and, more specifically, to Amsterdam and a plaza called Dam Square.

“It’s mobbed with people, it’s the epicenter of the city historically, it’s beautiful visually, and it’s the heart of the city; that’s where people to go to mingle and mix and shop and entertain themselves,” he said. “To draw a comparison to Court Square, I’ve looked on that as being one of those great public spaces, and the frustrating thing for me throughout my time in Springfield is that I see these public spaces and their potential — which is underutilized.

“And it frustrates me to no end,” he went on. “We have such incredibly important public spaces that have been dormant for some time. When you go to a place like Dam Square or Plaza Mayor in Madrid or other places like that, and see the activity that’s happening in those places, which isn’t contrived, it happens every day, you imagine the possibilities, but you also get frustrated.”

Perhaps the most glaring example of facilities being underutilized is Pynchon Park, he noted, adding that it had a very short life as a park before it was essentially locked down and abandoned amid safety concerns and other considerations.

“There was no plan for Pynchon Park,” said Plotkin with noticeable exacerbation in his voice. “I know from being in real estate that if you build something, that’s not the end of the game; you have to maintain that property. You have to think about security, infrastructure, maintenance, and keeping it clean so it is serviceable for the purpose for which it was intended.”

But, in a twist, Pynchon Park, which has long been a poster child for neglect and underutilization of resources, may soon be one of the more stunning examples of what Plotkin called a “sea change” taking place in Springfield.

Indeed, the park is slated for a $3.5 million facelift (funded by the MassWorks Infrastructure Program) that will include, ironically, a decidedly European form of conveyance, a funicular, to transport people from Dwight Street to Chestnut Street and the Quadrangle.

Other examples include Stearns Square and its fountain, Duryea Way, and Riverfront Park, also scheduled for a major renovation.

Accomplishments of Note

The jazz festival is part of this sea change, he went on, adding that his work to bring that event downtown and continue the tradition after it was discontinued for a few years is exemplary of his broader efforts to make downtown a gathering place and not just a Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 place.

Plotkin said his involvement with the festival began in 2005 when he served as a volunteer for what was known then as the Hoop City Jazz Festival, staged in the quad on the STCC campus and later at Riverfront Park. At first, he worked with founder John Osborne and other members of a committee to create a slate of performers, and later got involved with the fund-raising side of the venture.

017_plotkinevan-diff2017

“I really loved the idea, but I was troubled with the event not being in the downtown, and I said to John, ‘I don’t really want to do this anymore unless we move it to the heart of downtown in Court Square,’” Plotkin recalled, adding that, when he convinced Osborne and the mayor to make that move, the event, and the city, were energized by it.

When Osborne fell ill at the start of this decade and the event fell into limbo, Plotkin was instrumental in bringing it into a new era with a new name, the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival.

Now entering its sixth year, the festival is doing what Plotkin envisioned it would — it is using music to bring a diverse audience of people to celebrate music and energize the city and its downtown.

“When I look out the audience and see the faces and the different demographic groups that attend, and the overwhelming joy that people have congregating in that park and listening to music … it’s kind of like a Woodstock,” he explained. “It’s like a love fest.

“Music breaks boundaries, it breaks barriers, and it brings people together,” he went on. “I know that’s cliché of me to say, but it just … seems to work.”

Many other initiatives that Plotkin has led have worked as well. That list includes Art & Soles, which placed dozens of five-foot sneakers around the downtown area and beyond; City Mosaic; the conversion of the ninth floor of 1350 Main St. into what’s known as Studio 9, a community gathering space; use of the front lobby — and now other spaces — at 1350 Main for use as gallery space; work in partnership with artist James Kitchen to bring many of his metal sculptures to the downtown area; and much more.

As he reflected more on Springfield, its downtown, and what it will take to make the city a destination, Plotkin talked about building blocks and how his work and that of others represents putting such blocks on top of one another to build something substantial — and lasting.

“I think one of the next big things that needs to happen is to focus on how we can redevelop some of the class B and C office space into market-rate or affordable housing so we can attract people down there,” he said of just one the ‘blocks,’ the all-important housing component. “But that’s only going to happen when we restore our parks, reconnect the river to the city, and do something about the lack of attention given to those aspects of building a vibrant downtown.

“If you start making moves in these directions, and if you start restoring your public spaces, these efforts will all lead to that general sense of well-being that people have,” he went on, “and the positive feelings that people have about being here and living here.”

Walking the Walk

It’s safe to say few people have ever traveled down Court House Walk. And even fewer have noticed the small plaque commemorating its restoration four decades ago or taken the time to read it.

Evan Plotkin has, and while reading, he allowed his mind to drift back to the day people gathered at that spot, gave speeches, and cut a ribbon.

Although he recognizes that the walkway is a comparatively modest example of a space that needs to be activated, of something once celebrated that has since been forgotten, it is nonetheless symbolic of everything he has worked for and continues to work for.

It’s not about the past and bringing back good old days, but about the future, and creating a Springfield that people will want to live in and work in and visit to take in a jazz festival.

Like art, and, yes, even food art, this work has become a passion for Plotkin, and it has made him a true Difference Maker.

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

Features

Something’s Cooking

Chef Warren Leigh in one of the teaching kitchens at the new Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute.

Chef Warren Leigh in one of the teaching kitchens at the new Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute.

The Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute opened its doors to considerable fanfare last month. Officials at the school wore out the phrase ‘state-of-the-art’ as they talked about its five kitchens and other facilities. But that’s only part of the story. The institute is also a key ingredient, as they say in culinary arts, in workforce-development initiatives, as well as efforts to revitalize
downtown Holyoke.

Chef Warren Leigh knew something was up when students arrived for the first class of the semester more than an hour early.

More to the point, he knew exactly what was up, and he didn’t blame those early birds one bit.

Indeed, it seems that people can’t wait to get a look at the $7.5 million Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, now occupying the first two floors of the building in downtown Holyoke with a name that matches its shape: the Cubit. And that includes the students in Leigh’s classes, specifically the ones a semester or two into their studies within the culinary and hospitality programs who kept hearing about what was being built to replace the aging, insufficient facilities on the HCC campus. And hearing about them. And hearing about them.

So it’s no wonder they altered their schedules and gave themselves what amounted to — wait for it — a cook’s tour. Well, not really. Instead, it was an involved, quite lengthy tour, again for good reasons, as we’ll see when Leigh takes BusinessWest around in a little bit.

Several years in the making, the new, 20,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility boasts five kitchens, a separate bakery, an 80-seat dining facility that will host a variety of events, ultra-modern classrooms, a well-appointed student lounge, an area to change clothes, and much more.

“Aside from Johnson & Wales and the Culinary Institute of America, this is the most current, purpose-built culinary-arts facility in New England, maybe in the Northeast,” said Leigh, chair of the Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts programs at HCC. “It’s truly a regional resource.”

Beyond all that, and those points are noteworthy to be sure, the new center is a significant development, in every sense of that phrase, in many other respects.

First, it represents a huge step forward in the broad realm of workforce development within the culinary-arts field, both locally and regionally, a segment of the economy that was already growing and will now get a huge boost with the arrival in about eight months of MGM Springfield and a host of new restaurants.

The need to hire what will likely be several hundred food-service-related personnel is a big reason why MGM contributed $500,000 to this project and now has its name on the facility.

‘State-of-the-art’ is a phrase that defines all aspects of the new facility in the Cubit Building in downtown Holyoke.

‘State-of-the-art’ is a phrase that defines all aspects of the new facility in the Cubit Building in downtown Holyoke.

But, overall, the food-service and hospitality sectors in Western Mass. are growing, and, as is the case in many fields, finding sufficient numbers of qualified help is becoming an ever-greater challenge.

The Culinary Arts Institute will help close the gap, said Michele Cabral, HCC’s interim dean for Business and Technology, who told BusinessWest that, like other initiatives undertaken at HCC in recent years, the institute is a direct response to recognized needs within the business community and a desire to meet them.

Meanwhile, the institute is both the cornerstone of efforts to renovate the Cubit Building into a mixed-use facility, with apartments on the upper floors, and one of the key ingredients (that’s an industry phrase) in efforts to bring people, businesses, and vibrancy to a surging downtown Holyoke.

For this issue, BusinessWest takes a tour of, and an in-depth look at, the Culinary Arts Institute to fully explain its significance to the college, the students who will learn there, and the region as a whole.

Food for Thought

Leigh wears a number of hats in his role as chair of hospitality management and culinary arts, including the traditional chef’s hat.

He’s added another one, but only figuratively.

Indeed, he doesn’t wear any headgear when he’s giving tours, which has become a big part of his job description these days. He’s led walkthroughs taken by constituencies ranging from elected officials to prospective students to media members, and there are many more already on the calendar.

He doesn’t mind this intrusion on his schedule, though, because, like all those at HCC, he’s quite proud of all the hard work that went into designing and building this facility — and obviously with the final product itself.

Before getting one of those tours, BusinessWest first wanted to talk about what brought everyone to this moment.

There has a been a culinary-arts program, in one form or another, at HCC for roughly 30 years, said Leigh, whose tenure covers roughly a third that period. The program, which years ago was more hospitality-related than culinary-focused, has had several homes over the years, none of them large or particularly well-equipped. The most recent was in the Frost Building in what he believes was the old music room.

The need for a larger, better facility was apparent, he went on, but so were the challenges to securing one, including a location and, especially, the funding. Finally, a plan was conceptualized that would make the college — and MGM — partners in the bold plans to revitalize the Cubit Building, which had been underutilized for many years.

This is a true public-private partnership, one that involves the college (and thus the state), the city of Holyoke, the federal government (specifically the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration), MGM, and brothers Denis and Marco Luzuriaga, who purchased the Cubit Building and have invested heavily in its redevelopment.

As the partners in the ambitious initiative came together and plans started to materialize, those involved came to understand what this opportunity meant, and how they needed to take full advantage of it.

“A cross-functional team was put together, and it was told that, if we have the space, we have one chance to get this right — let’s talk about how to build what we actually want,” said Cabral. “Faculty, hospitality, and culinary were part of the team from day one in designing the space and selecting the equipment.”

They certainly did get it right, and the resulting facility enables HCC to greatly expand capacity and thus better serve the region and its culinary- and hospitality-related businesses.

Warren Leigh and Michele Cabral

Warren Leigh and Michele Cabral have devoted considerable time recently to the leading tours of the new Culinary Arts Institute, and there are many more scheduled.

Cabral qualified and quantified what it all means.

“This gives us the capacity to teach multiple sections of our credit programs,” she explained, “while at the same time responding to the needs of the community and teaching workforce development, professional development, and adult basic education related to culinary hospitality. In our old space, we only had one and a half kitchens, so we could only do one thing at a time.”

Leigh agreed, and noted that the institute is a “purpose-built facility” and one of the few in the region, if not the country, when it comes to culinary arts and hospitality centers of study.

“As we grow, we can use every one of these kitchens and classrooms running simultaneously, all day long,” he explained, adding that there is considerable room for expansion as well as expectations that it will be used as demand for workers in these fields escalates.

Five-course Facility

BusinessWest visited the institute on the first day of classes for the spring semester, and, as noted at the top, many of the students were a tad eager — and more than a tad early.

Leigh said he’s been teaching a long time and has never witnessed anything quite like, but, as he said, it’s understandable.

There’s lots to see, and he started the tour where he usually does, with the fully equipped demonstration kitchen, which, as that name suggests, is for demonstrations and teaching exercises.

“In here, we can do any method of cooking,” he said. “And we have three cameras that will put it onto monitors so the students can see close up. We can save it and we can broadcast it over the World Wide Web to anywhere we want.”

From there, he went to the dining room, which can be set up for gatherings of up to 90-100 people, said Leigh, adding that this facility also has cameras and monitors, and students will handle every aspect of events to be staged there, and several have been booked already.

The tour continued in the “production kitchen,” set up European style, as he described it, with the student chefs facing each other (rather than a wall as is the case in most area restaurants) and communicating with each other as they work together to prepare a meal. And then on to two teaching kitchens, a bake shop, classrooms, and that student lounge. Each area is large, open, bathed in natural light thanks to huge windows, and built to enhance the learning process.

The ‘production kitchen’ in the new culinary arts institute is spacious and state-of-the-art.

The ‘production kitchen’ in the new culinary arts institute is spacious and state-of-the-art.

“What I like about our design is that I can stand almost any place in here as a professor and I can see the whole kitchen, I can see all the students, I can talk to all the students,” Leigh explained, adding that it will even be equipped with a microphone because it can get quite noisy in those spaces and even his “kitchen voice” might not suffice.

As noted earlier, these facilities enable a number of classes to be taught at one time, said Leigh, including all segments of HCC’s new associate’s degree program in Culinary Arts, a four-semester program that is now a cornerstone of a program that Cabral described with the term “stackable.”

Elaborating, she said that students could choose a one-year certificate program in Culinary Arts. If they wanted to go further, they could enter the associate’s degree program and essentially build on what they started.

“They can come in and go as far as they want to go; and we’ve made it easy and mapable for them to do that,” she went on, adding that, an individual can start with professional-development classes in mind and segue into the culinary certificate program and then, perhaps, the degree program.

And with that associate’s degree, a student could transfer to Johnson & Wales or another school that offers a four-year program, such as UMass Amerst’s offering in Food Science, said Leigh, adding quickly sending the first two years at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school has become an increasingly popular option for cost-conscious families and individuals.

Meanwhile, that two-year program will certainly open a lot of doors to those who choose that route, he went on, adding that with MGM’s arrival and a host of other additions within the hospitality sector, there are a lot more doors to go through if one is qualified.

Tastefully Done

Helping individuals become qualified was the primary driver behind the new culinary arts institute. Actually, there were several, including a desire among those at the college to play an even more direct role in economic development efforts in Holyoke.

Both of those assignments will play out over coming years as Leigh puts to use his kitchen voice — as well as that microphone — in that demonstration area.

“This is a unique, purpose-built facility that really doesn’t exist anywhere else,” he told BusinessWest, adding that students needed to arrive an hour before the first class started to take it all in.

he was going to say more … but he had to go give yet another tour.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Geoff Kravitz (left) and Paul Bockelman

Geoff Kravitz (left) and Paul Bockelman say the town is studying what types of businesses would be best suited to its emerging mixed-use developments.

Anyone who has spent time in Amherst recognizes the town’s enviable mix of cultural institutions, restaurants, academic energy — more than 33,000 students attend UMass Amherst, Hampshire College, and Amherst College — and open space.

But town officials know they need to do more than tout those offerings; they need to leverage them to create the kind of community where college graduates will want to stay, and where families and businesses will want to locate.

A number of recent developments aim to meet that need. For example, Archipelago Investments, LLC of Amherst is building One East Pleasant, a mixed-use project featuring 135 residential units and 7,500 square feet of commercial space, with plans for the building to be completed and occupied by the fall.

Meanwhile, W.D. Cowls Inc. and Boston-based Beacon Communities are laying the groundwork for North Square at the Mill District, another mixed-use development in North Amherst, which will feature 130 residential units — including 26 affordable units for people at or below 50% of the area’s median income — and 22,000 square feet of commercial space. Construction on the project, which tapped into local tax-increment financing, is set to begin this spring.

Archipelago is also developing a third mixed-use project for the downtown area, at 26 Spring St., which will feature 38 residential units and 1,000 square feet of commercial space. That was recently permitted, as was Aspen Heights, on Route 9 at the former Amherst Motel site, where Breck Group Amherst Massachusetts LP plans a residential development that will include 115 units, 16 of them qualifying as affordable housing.

“There is a master plan which has focused development on the village centers, while taking tangible steps to preserve open space,” said Town Manager Paul Bockelman, noting that municipal leaders want new development to occur downtown, in the North Amherst Village Center, in South Amherst, and East Amherst so the town can preserve existing neighborhoods and open space.

Amherst at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1759
Population: 39,482
Area: 27.7 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $21.14
Commercial Tax Rate: $21.14
Median Household Income: $48,059
Median Family Income: $96,005
Type of Government: Select Board, Town Meeting
Largest Employers: UMass Amherst; Amherst College; Delivery Express; Hampshire College
* Latest information available

“Things are happening on campus, too,” said Geoff Kravitz, Amhert’s Economic Development director. “UMass opened its design building, they’re renovating Isenberg School of Management, and Amherst College is doing a big, new, quarter-billion science center.”

“That’s an interesting one,” Bockelman said of the latter. “At one point, they were saying 200 tradespeople were coming into town every day to work on one building. These sorts of investments from the colleges and university are making a spillover effect on the town. Clearly, as these institutions grow, it benefits the town.”

Meanwhile, the University/Town of Amherst Collaborative has been working since 2015 to create better connections between UMass and the town, from addressing student housing needs to leveraging opportunities related to university research, entrepreneurship opportunities, cultural opportunities, and retention of graduates.

It’s a town, in short, that is ripe for opportunities that spring out of such connections — and a place whose cultural profile makes it a true destination for visitors and transplants alike.

Speaking of Culture

The Amherst Central Cultural District is another connection-maker of sorts, a state designation issued in 2016 that aims to leverage the offerings of the Emily Dickinson Museum, Jones Library, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the Yiddish Book Museum at Hampshire College, the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, and other cultural institutions.

“They can cross-promote; for example, the Emily Dickinson Museum has a poetry week, and Amherst College has a literary festival,” Kravitz said, adding that the Business Improvement District also presents an arts festival downtown that brings together artists of all kinds who normally work independently. “We have a lot of people who do their artwork at home, and this gets them out of the woodwork and shows a strong artistic presence downtown.”

Meanwhile, the Amherst WinterFest, an array of cultural and recreational offerings slated for Feb. 3-10, has been expanded this year from a weekend to a full week, due to popular demand.

The downtown district continues to attract new businesses — the Red Door Salon, Bart’s Ice Cream, and Ichiban are a few recent notables — but with a low vacancy rate, growth is limited until those mixed-use developments come online. And the town has streamlined its downtown parking options as well, making it easier for people to pay by phone, for instance, and issued maps showing where visitors can find parking, bathrooms, and other amenities.

Through it all, officials hope the new mixed-use developments downtown create more business growth, energy, and tourism.

“We’re looking to fill that commercial space, and that requires breaking out the crystal ball and looking into the future,” Kravitz said. Specifically, the down has engaged with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to develop an economic-development plan which will examine the market, local economic indicators, and the town’s so-called SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — to determine what types of businesses may be most successful, including but possibly going beyond the restaurants, retail, and entertainment options that have long thrived downtown.

As for housing, the new residential developments are welcome, as there hasn’t been much residential development over the previous couple decades, Bockelman said, noting that a 2015 study determined that Amherst could use some 4,000 more units. “People have been trying to fill that gap.”

But young people aren’t the only ones interested in the Amherst lifestyle. “Older people are retiring to college towns; it’s very attractive, between the cultural benefits and the 80 miles of hiking trails here and the access to nature,” he added, referring to the K.C. Trail, the Robert Frost Trail, and the Norwottuck Rail Trail. “Not everyone is going to Florida to retire. Some people grew up here and want to stay here; they’re not fleeing to warmer climes.”

The Kayon Accelerator, which opened last year on the second floor of the AmherstWorks co-working space downtown, can play a role in retaining people who grew upin Amherst and went to college here, Kravitz said, by attracting people trying to turn innovative ideas into businesses and may be looking for venture capital and other resources.

“If they like the lifestyle here, why not stay where they have friends and have a life already?” he said. “That’s one thing we’re trying to build — that 22-to-44 age group, people starting their families here. That’s really valuable to us.”

Green Thoughts

There is one other economic-development opportunity that towns have grappled with in myriad ways, but that Amherst is embracing. That’s the marijuana trade — both medicinal and recreational. Considering that the town’s voters favored the 2016 ballot measure legalizing recreational pot by a 3-to-1 margin, officials here are taking seriously how best to respect their wishes while emphasizing safe use of marijuana.

“This recreational use, or adult use, is something our residents want to see, and even if the town doesn’t think it’s a good idea, it’s going to have an impact on the town anyway, so it’s a good idea to have the businesses located here so we can take advantage of the tax revenue, and do it in a safe, responsible manner,” Kravitz said.

However, with a population that’s constantly changing — thousands of freshmen report to UMass Amherst, Hampshire College, and Amherst College each fall — the town is planning a significant educational component as well. It has also passed a number of marijuana-related regulations, including a 3% local-option sales tax, a ban on public consumption, and capping at eight the number of recreational-marijuana establishments in town.

“We thought that would create enough competition without overwhelming them,” Kravitz said. “The town is now looking at zoning that will help refine that.”

It’s just one more way a town with much to offer residents and businesses is working to weave those amenities into a tapestry that keeps people coming — whether for school, to live, or simply to enjoy the scene.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Chamber Corners Departments

1BERKSHIRE

www.1berkshire.com

(413) 499-1600

• Feb. 27: Entrepreneurial Meetup, 8-10 a.m., hosted by Dottie’s Coffee Lounge, Pittsfield. Join us for networking and share what you’ve been working on in an open-mic format. 1Berkshire’s Entrepreneurial Meetups are free events that gather entrepreneurs together to network, learn, and engage.

• Feb. 28: Good News Business Salute, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Zion Church, Pittsfield. Come celebrate Jacob’s Pillow, IS183, and more. This event recognizes major milestones, including anniversaries, expansions, and new product lines of Berkshire businesses, and gives us a chance to come together to applaud their efforts. Member cost: $35 for individual, $140 for table of four, $280 for table of eight. Non-member cost: $45 for individual, $180 for table of four, $360 for table of eight.

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.amherstarea.com

(413) 253-0700

• Feb. 8: After 5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Bistro 63, 63 North Pleasant St., Amherst. Sponsored by Greenfield Savings Bank.

• March 15: After 5 – YPA/AACC, 5-7 p.m., location to be announced.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• Feb. 9: Business After Hours, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Berchmans Hall Rotunda, Elms College, 291 Springfield St., Chicopee. Network with chamber members at this annual event. Meet with students who are learning about the importance of networking and share your insights with them. Hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, and raffle prizes. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members.

• Feb. 15: CEO Power Hour Luncheon with Spiros Hatiras, 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., hosted by Collegian Court, 89 Park St., Chicopee. Sponsored by Westfield Bank. Come enjoy lunch and listen as Hatiras talks about his journey as president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members.

• Feb. 21: February Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Castle of Knights, 1599 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Sponsored by Insurance Center of New England. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members, $250 monthly sponsor.

• March 2: Shining Stars Awards, 6:30-10 p.m., hosted by Castle of Knights, Chicopee. The chamber will recognize Interstate Towing Co. as Business of the Year, Dawn Creighton of Associated Industries of Massachusetts as Citizen of the Year, Karen Hansmann as Volunteer of the Year, and Valley Opportunity Council as the Nonprofit Organization of the Year. This event is sponsored by diamond sponsor Westfield Bank; platinum sponsors Polish National Credit Union and PeoplesBank; gold sponsors the Arbors Kids, Holyoke Medical Center, and BusinessWest; and bronze sponsor United Personnel. To register to attend, call the chamber at (413) 594-2101 or visit www.chicopeechamber.org and sign up in the Calendar of Events.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• Feb. 8: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., hosted by the Boylston Rooms, 122 Pleasant St., Suite #112, Easthampton. Sponsored by Tanya Costigan Events. This is a great networking opportunity and an opportunity to tour the new Boylston Rooms.

• Feb. 27: Strengths-based Leadership, 7:45-10 a.m., hosted by Innovative Business Systems, Mill 180, 180 Pleasant St., Easthampton. In the first of a two-part series, Colleen DelVecchio, a certified CliftonStrengths coach, will lead us into our strongest selves as leaders via our personnel Gallup StrengthFinder assessment and insight reports. At the end of the two breakfast sessions, you will understand the keys to be a more effective leader, unveil your strengths, learn to invest in the strengths of others, get people with the right strengths on your team, and understand and meet the four basic needs of those who look to you for leadership: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber office at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.holyokechamber.org

(413) 534-3376

• Feb. 9: Legislative Coffee Hour, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Summit View Banquet and Meeting House, 555 Northampton St., Holyoke. Sponsored by Marcotte Ford, bankESB, and Holyoke Medical Center. Guest Speakers:  state Rep. Aaron Vega, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, and Holyoke City Council President Todd McGee. Join us for a casual conversation about 2018 issues affecting the city of Holyoke and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Cost: $20 for members, $25 for non-members and walk-ins. Price includes a buffet breakfast. Sign up online at holyokechamber.com.

• Feb. 21: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted by the Holyoke Community College Center for Culinary Arts, 164 Race St., Holyoke. Sponsored by Holyoke Community College. Join us for a casual networking experience at HCC’s new culinary facility. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Sign up online at holyokechamber.com.

• Feb. 28: Ask a Chamber Expert: How to Attract Customers to Your Marketing Table, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Executive Conference Room, 177 High St., Holyoke. Get ready for the upcoming multi-chamber Taste of Business by learning how to successfully attract customers to your table. Presented by Francie Richardson of Art Craft. Cost: free for chamber members, $15 for non-members. Price includes a continental breakfast. Register at holyokechamber.com.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com

(413) 584-1900

• Feb. 7: February Arrive @5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Christopher Heights, 50 Village Hill Road, Northampton. A networking event. Cost: $10 for members.

n March 7: March Arrive @5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by 50/50 Fitness, 251 Russell St., Hadley. Sponsored by Applied Mortgage, a division of Merrimack Mortgage Co. A networking event. Cost: $10 for members.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• Feb. 5: Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., hosted by Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested at (413) 568-1618 so we may give our host a head count.

• Feb. 13: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., hosted by ReStore Westfield (Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity), 301 East Main St., Westfield. Bring your business cards and make connections. Refreshments will be served. A 50/50 raffle will support the chamber’s Scholarship Fund. Cost: free for chamber members, $10 for general admission.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.springfieldregionalchamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• Feb. 7: [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Carriage House, Storrowton Tavern, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Featuring political consultant Anthony Cignoli, sharing his insights into the upcoming November elections. Cost: $25 for members ($30 at the door), $35 general admission ($40 at the door).

• Feb. 15: Leadership Institute, first session. Runs through March 29. Presented in partnership with the Springfield Regional Chamber and Western New England University at the TD Bank Conference Center. Applications must be received by Feb. 8.

• Feb. 15: Fire & Ice Craft Cocktail Competition and Fundraiser, 5:30-8 p.m., hosted by Springfield Country Club, 1375 Elm St., West Springfield. Sponsored by Florence Bank, the Republican, and MassLive. Cost: $40 for members in advance, $50 general admission in advance, $50 at the door.

• March 7: [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Chez Josef, 176 Shoemaker Lane, Agawam. Cost: $25 for members ($30 at the door), $35 general admission ($40 at the door).

• March 8: After Hours with Springfield Regional, Greater Easthampton, Westfield and West of the River Chambers, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Mill 180, 180 Pleasant St., Easthampton. Cost: $10 for members, $15 general admission.

• March 9: Outlook 2018, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., hosted by the MassMutual Center, Springfield. Featuring keynote speaker Gov. Charlie Baker and Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Cost: $60 for members in advance; $80 general admission in advance.

• March 13: Lunch ‘n’ Learn, details to be announced.

• March 20: C-Suite Conversations & Cocktails, 5-7 p.m., hosted by CityStage, One Columbus Center, Springfield. Members-only event featuring MGM President Mike Mathis. Cost: $25.

• March 29: Speed Networking, 3:30-5 p.m., location to be determined. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 general admission in advance ($35 at the door).

Reservations for all chamber events may be made by visiting www.springfieldregionalchamber.com, e-mailing [email protected], or calling (413) 755-1310.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• Feb. 7: Wicked Wednesday, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Carrabba’s Italian Grill, West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880, or register at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

• Feb. 13: Lunch & Tour at the Bistro LPVEC – West Springfield, noon to 1:30 p.m. Join fellow members and non-members for a networking lunch at the Bistro at Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, followed by an informative discussion on the value of gaining skills in the trades industry and how we can promote to fill local jobs. Sponsorships are available for this event. Register online at [email protected]

DBA Certificates Departments

The following business certificates and trade names were issued or renewed during the month of January 2018.

AMHERST

Pizza House of Amherst
17 Montague Road
Francisco Perez

Sev Kolysko
48 North Pleasant St., Suite 205
Seweryn Kolysko

Small Batch Books
493 South Pleasant St.
Fred Levine

TR Designs
43 Wildflower Dr.
Natasha Friedman

CHICOPEE

Alansari Auto Sales & Repair
926 Front St.
Abdull Whab Mustafa

Springfield Automotive Partners, LLC
295 Burnett Road
Peter Wirth

Yankee Glass Inc.
450 New Ludlow Road
Roy Sabourin

DEERFIELD

Brookside Cemetery
10 South Main St.
William Leno

Deerfield’s International Market
261 Greenfield Road
Tenzin Bhuti Rinchen

River Bend Farm
44A South Main St.
Richard Wysk

EASTHAMPTON

Beaudry Home Improvement
117 Ferry St.
Matthew Beaudry

Suite 3
180 Pleasant St.
David DelVecchio, Brian Scanlon

Tech Cavalry
180 Pleasant St.
David DelVecchio, Brian Scanlon

EAST LONGMEADOW

A.B.E. Chimney
111 Millbrook Dr.
Michael Ardrukonis

All Things Metal
15 Ainslie Dr.
Bruce Mackechnie

JB’s Ice Cream
622 North Main St.
Jeffrey Buzzelle

GREENFIELD

Arising Embodiment Healing Arts
50 Chapman St., Suite 2
Karla Muise

Beijing Restaurant of Greenfield Inc.
45 Main St.
Hui Chen

Doggie Dips & Clips
278 Federal St.
Karen Baker

Elizabeth Home
5-7 Congress St.
7 Congress St. Inc.

Fitness Through Cycling
306 High St.
Patricia Clements

Harper’s Store
404 Colrain Road
William Valvo

Namaste Nepalese/Indian Restaurant
286 Main St.
Saphal Singh Rana Magar

OCR, LLC
166 Federal St.
Marc Houlihan

HADLEY

Candy Stand
367 Russell St.
Syed Ali

Moe’s Southwest Grill
379 Russell St.
Sagar Shah

Panera Bread
351 Russell St.
PR Restaurants, LLC

Western MA Family Golf
294 Russell St.
Hollrock Engineering Inc.

HAMPDEN

A to Z Auto Sales Service
83 North Monson Road
Rebecca Paquette, Anthony Paquette

HOLYOKE

Executive Vending
154 Rock Valley Road
John LaRose

Fun Star
50 Holyoke St.
David Leichus

Onix Landscaping
329 Beech St.
Onix Gonzalez

Tri State Golf Marketing
72 Old Jarvis Ave.
Jerome Nomakeo

LUDLOW

Jeffrey’s Suit Rack
287 East St.
Jeffrey Clemons Sr.

NORTHAMPTON

Alchemy Healing Center
17 New South St., #104
Leta Herman, Jaye McElroy

Born Perfect
17 New South St., #104
Leta Herman, Jaye McElroy

Criminal Defense Northampton
94 King St.
Kevin Kelley

Karuna Center for Yoga and Healing Arts
25 Main St.
Paul Menard

Northampton Tire and Auto Service
182 King St.
Kurt Zimmerman

Somewhere Is Here
17 New South St., #104
Leta Herman, Jaye McElroy

Toward Harmony Tai Chi & Qigong
16 Center St., Suite 527
Charles Ryan

PALMER

CKS
46 Wilbraham Road
Kevin Kolakowski

County Corner Citgo Inc.
5 Springfield St.
Peter McKearney

Mass Biofuels Co.
15 Old Farm Road
Joseph Turek

SOUTHWICK

57 Hair, LLC
610 College Highway, Suite 12A
Adam Oliveri

Southwick Computer Repair
4 Island Pond Road
Robert Cranston

SPRINGFIELD

350 Grill
350 Worthington St.
Sherri Lynn Via

AAW Removals
94 Grover St.
Anthony Alonzo

AGS X Press
15 Crow Lane
Kavon Smith

Alcogen Engineering Solutions
12 Steuben St.
Amir Hasan

AMG Retail I, LLC
707 Dickinson St.
AMG Retail I, LLC

Elegant Barbershop
135-137 Boston Road
Pedro Genao

Express Auto Sales Inc.
1103-1107 State St.
Amjad Hussain

Fancy Nails
1655 Boston Road
Thi Tai

Gemini Property Management
127 Carnavon Circle
Rickford Fraser

Love Nails Inc.
1349 Allen St.
Chun Ri Zhao

Michelman Law Offices
1333 East Columbus Ave.
Jay Michelman

Milliam Jewelry & More
92 Fieldston St.
Milliam Bermudez

Monsoon Roastery
143 Main St.
Timothy Monson

Red Oak Properties
66 Cumberland St.
Alexandre Pazmandy

Renee’s Visuals Three
55 Marengo Park
Renee’s Flowers

Sprint
1300 Boston Road
Sprint Spectrum, LP

Tiny Tykes Daycare
77 Fisher St.
Rosany Santiago

WARE

Apex Automotive
96 West St.
Jason Thomas

Jackson Hewitt Tax Service
352 Palmer Road
Jay Benge

Ware Built Timber Frame
19 Sheehy Road
Eric Moulton

Ware Service Center
290 Palmer Road
Joe Pocai

WEST SPRINGFIELD

A2 Business Services
5 Sunnyside St.
Jeanette Brennan

Balise Mazda
635 Riverdale St.
Balise Motor Sales

Bliny Crepes Tea House
261 Union St.
Arturas Ribinskas

Ezee Mart
622 Kings Highway
Ezee Shop Inc.

Girard LP
1343 Riverdale St.
Charles Mercier

Jason Freitag Electrician
355 Lancaster Ave.
Jason Freitag

Joe’s Landscaping
62 Worthen St.
Joseph Schmidt

Kelly Bouchard, DMD, PC
103 Van Deene Ave.
Kelly Bouchard

WILBRAHAM

Battlefront Pro Wrestling
15 Bartlett Court
Daniel Gore

The Bilberry Salon
2141 Boston Road
Laura Grondin

Hypnosis for Life
14 West Colonial Road
David Preto

Life Care Center of Wilbraham
2399 Boston Road
Dennis Lopata

State & Bond, LLC
215 Stony Hill Road
Steven Barton

Chamber Corners Departments

1BERKSHIRE
www.1berkshire.com
(413) 499-1600

• Jan. 27: BYP Winter Ball, 7-11 p.m., hosted by Country Club of Pittsfield. Let’s take an evening to dress up and enjoy a ball together. It’s an inexpensive way to enjoy an elegant evening with music, heavy hors d’oeuvres, elegance, and an excuse to dress to the nines — and much more — with friends. Cost: $25 for members, $35 for non-members.
• Feb. 27: Entrepreneurial Meetup, 8-10 a.m., hosted by Dottie’s Coffee Lounge, Pittsfield. Join us for networking and share what you’ve been working on in an open-mic format. 1Berkshire’s Entrepreneurial Meetups are free events that gather entrepreneurs together to network, learn, and engage. They provide small-business owners, or people interested in starting a business, opportunities to have casual, organic conversations with peers and resource providers.
• Feb. 28: Good News Business Salute, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Zion Church, Pittsfield. Come celebrate Jacob’s Pillow, IS183, and more. This event recognizes major milestones, including anniversaries, expansions, and new product lines of Berkshire businesses, and gives us a chance to come together to applaud their efforts. Member cost: $35 for individual, $140 for table of four, $280 for table of eight. Non-member cost: $45 for individual, $180 for table of four, $360 for table of eight.

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.amherstarea.com
(413) 253-0700

• Feb. 8: After 5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Bistro 63, 63 North Pleasant St., Amherst. Sponsored by Greenfield Savings Bank.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101

• Jan. 23: B2B Roundtable, 8-9 a.m., hosted by Polish National Credit Union, 923 Front St., Chicopee. Sponsored by CHH Engraving Inc. An opportunity to connect and increase your contacts, generate leads, and establish relationships with other businesses. Cost: free to chamber members, but limited to one representative per business industry. Call Sarah Williams at (413) 594-2101, ext. 103, for more information or to sign up.
• Jan. 31: ChamberMaster Training, 9-11 a.m., hosted by Hampton Inn Chicopee, 600 Memorial Dr. This is a brief presentation on how to use ChamberMaster for chamber members. This is a great tool for all chamber members for some free advertising. Cost: free to chamber members. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.
• Feb. 9: Business After Hours, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Berchmans Hall Rotunda, Elms College, 291 Springfield St., Chicopee. Network with chamber members at this annual event. Meet with students who are learning about the importance of networking and share your insights with them. Hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, and raffle prizes. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members.
• Feb. 15: CEO Power Hour Luncheon with Spiros Hatiras, 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., hosted by Collegian Court, 89 Park St., Chicopee. Sponsored by Westfield Bank. Come enjoy lunch and listen as Hatiras talks about his journey as president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members.
• Feb. 21: February Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Castle of Knights, 1599 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Sponsored by Insurance Center of New England. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members, $250 monthly sponsor.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.easthamptonchamber.org
(413) 527-9414

• Feb. 8: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., hosted by the Boylston Rooms, 122 Pleasant St., Suite #112, Easthampton. Sponsored by Tanya Costigan Events. This is a great networking opportunity and an opportunity to tour the new Boylston Rooms.
• Feb. 27: Strengths-based Leadership, 7:45-10 a.m., hosted by Innovative Business Systems, Mill 180, 180 Pleasant St., Easthampton. In the first of a two-part series, Colleen DelVecchio, a certified CliftonStrengths coach, will lead us into our strongest selves as leaders via our personnel Gallup StrengthFinder assessment and insight reports. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber office at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.holyokechamber.com
(413) 534-3376

• Jan. 24: Candidate & Elected Officials Reception, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Gary Rome Hyundai, 150 Whiting Farms Road, Holyoke. Sponsored by Dowd Insurance, the Republican, Marcotte Ford, Comcast Business, Holyoke Medical Center, and Ferriter Law. Join the Greater Holyoke business community in congratulating newly elected officials and rubbing elbows with local legislators. Featured keynote speaker: U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. Guest speaker: Spiros Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center. Cost: $40, which includes appetizers, food stations, and an open bar. Sign up online at holyokechamber.com.
• Jan. 31: ACE, Ask a Chamber Expert: Social Media Strategic Plan, 8:30-10 a.m., hosted in the executive conference room of the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, 177 High St., Holyoke. The chamber welcomes chamber expert Heather Turner, chief log roller at Forfeng Designs and Media, who will share her expertise on how to design a winning social-media strategy. Cost: free for chamber members, $15 for non-members.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.explorenorthampton.com
(413) 584-1900

• Feb. 7: February Arrive @5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Christopher Heights, 50 Village Hill Road, Northampton. A networking event. Cost: $10 for members.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.westfieldbiz.org
(413) 568-1618

• Feb. 5: Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., hosted by Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested at (413) 568-1618 so we may give our host a head count.
• Feb. 13: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., hosted by ReStore Westfield (Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity), 301 East Main St., Westfield. Bring your business cards and make connections. Refreshments will be served. A 50/50 raffle will support the chamber’s Scholarship Fund. Cost: free for chamber members, $10 for general admission.

SOUTH HADLEY & GRANBY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.shgchamber.com
(413) 532-6451

• Jan. 23: Annual Meeting, 5:30-8:30 p.m., hosted by Willits-Hallowell Center, Mount Holyoke College, 26 Park St., South Hadley. An opportunity for chamber members to socialize with old friends in the business community and make new ones. A cocktail hour will be followed by dinner. The brief meeting will introduce the board of directors, describe the chamber’s various committees and their functions, and open discussion of 2018 calendar/plans/suggestions for the coming year.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER
www.springfieldregionalchamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• Jan. 23: C-Suite Conversations & Cocktails, 5-7 p.m., hosted by CityStage, One Columbus Center, Springfield. Members-only event. Cost: $25 in advance, $30 at the door. To make a reservation, visit www.springfieldregionalchamber.com, e-mail [email protected], or call (413) 755-1310.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.ourwrc.com
(413) 426-3880

• Feb. 7: Wicked Wednesday, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Carrabba’s Italian Grill, West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880, or register at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.
• Feb. 13: Lunch & Tour at the Bistro LPVEC – West Springfield, noon to 1:30 p.m. Join fellow members and non-members for a networking lunch at the Bistro at Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, followed by an informative discussion on the value of gaining skills in the trades industry and how we can promote to fill local jobs. Sponsorships are available for this event. Register online at [email protected]

Daily News

STOCKBRIDGE — Max Kiperman joined the Red Lion Inn culinary team as executive chef of the Red Lion Inn’s Main Dining Room, Widow Bingham’s Tavern, and the Lion’s Den. As executive chef, Kiperman will work closely with Vice President of Culinary Development Brian Alberg and Sous Chef Jim Corcoran on all future food- and beverage-related development in addition to day-to-day kitchen management.

With a tenure of more than 25 years in the culinary industry, Kiperman comes to the Red Lion Inn most recently from Lucca in Boston’s Back Bay, where he worked as sous chef, and as culinary consultant to the Viceroy Hotel and Resort in Zihuantanejo, Mexico. Kiperman began his culinary career at Rosalie’s Restaurant in Marblehead before training under three Michelin chefs, including Sylvain Portay and Alain Ducasse. Kiperman now brings his expertise and passion for cooking with locally sourced products to the Berkshires.

“Max’s diverse culinary portfolio and his commitment to the farm-to-table movement make him the perfect addition to lead the Red Lion Inn’s culinary team,” said Alberg. “We are confident his leadership and expertise will elevate the inn’s dining experience and continue to evolve the offerings to exceed our guests’ culinary expectations.”

Kiperman’s extensive résumé includes work in hotels and resorts such as the Ritz Carlton properties in San Francisco, New York City, and Boston, and the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort in Nevis West Indies; restaurants like On Lot Restaurant in Hong Kong and Mix Restaurant in Las Vegas; and work as a private chef in New York and Connecticut.

Recently refreshed breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus await guests at the Red Lion Inn’s Main Dining Room and Widow Bingham’s Tavern, highlighting the inn’s long-standing relationships with local and regional purveyors. The inn offers guests two additional dining options, the Lion’s Den, with nightly live entertainment, and seasonal outdoor dining in the Courtyard from June through September.

Sales and Marketing Sections

It’s All About Storytelling

By Darby O’Brien

Darby O’Brien

In this age of countless media platforms, Darby O’Brien says, bold and creative messaging is more important than ever.

In today’s multimedia environment, there are countless platforms — and a hell of a lot of clutter. That means the bedrock of strong advertising and marketing — bold, creative messaging — is even more important, whether it’s a billboard or a banner ad.

As marketing agencies, we’re expected to sell our clients on viral content, social-media approaches driven by hashtags and Snapchat filters. Lots of buzzwords. It’s important to keep current and explore all available options to get the word out. But it’s also important to have a strategy and not disregard the enduring power of traditional media such as television and print.

We need to dig down and get to know our clients, what makes them unique, and what specific strategy works for them. It’s not our job to sell clients on the latest trends just because it’s something they’ve been told they should have. It’s our job to give them the tools they need to succeed.

We believe in powerful brands with a strong look and message and making sure that stays consistent through all representations: website, business cards, letterhead, social media, advertising, even the design of the office. This business is all about storytelling. A company advertises to differentiate themselves, to set themselves apart from the pack. We need to focus less on the delivery system and more on the message. Branding campaigns that work are the ones that connect. They are memorable and successful because they truly represent the client. Sometimes it’s done through humor; sometimes it’s emotion. Sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes it’s a kick in the pants.

General brand awareness usually requires a broader mix of new and traditional media. Basically, putting together the media plan is the easy part. Coming up with something that people are going to care about — and talk about — is the challenge.”

Once there’s a strong identity and story, one must consider the current media options and figure out a combination that works. If we want to capture an audience attending an event, we geofence the event and hit ’em with ads on their phones. If you sell a product that needs multiple touches, it’s best to re-market to visitors to your site and keep top-of-mind awareness until they pull the trigger.

General brand awareness usually requires a broader mix of new and traditional media. Basically, putting together the media plan is the easy part. Coming up with something that people are going to care about — and talk about — is the challenge.

People aren’t going on Facebook or Instagram to be sold. That said, it is an incredible platform for doing just that. Restaurants, fashion, beauty, and other lifestyle brands have the easy leg up on being consumer-based and can benefit from the bragging rights associated with people liking their page. Those are the easy promotions on social media. Take a food-porn shot of your top-selling entrée, appetizer, or cocktail, boost it, and watch the likes and shares come in.

It gets tougher if you are a growing company that is not in a sexy category. Try recruiting talent from a pool where the audience doesn’t have cable or read the newspaper. That is where strategy, message, and delivery come together. We have seen great success with recruiting campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, even for companies that you may not associate with social media. In this case, the strategy is to sell the lifestyle that working for said company could afford them instead of just throwing up a ‘now hiring’ post.

Unfortunately, we’re living in what I call an ‘eggshells environment.’ We need bold, creative messaging more than ever, but people seem more cautious than ever. There’s too much of a focus-group mentality. When you try to please everybody, you don’t appeal to anybody.

Our most successful campaigns have been when we dealt directly with the decision maker, the person whose reputation is on the line and knows that you have to roll the dice to win. Those campaigns and concepts have rarely made it through the groupthink filter of committees, play-it-safe marketing directors, and company boards without being dumbed down and rendered ineffective.

As marketing agencies, we need to make it clear what exactly we’re good at. Today, everybody thinks they can do it themselves. It’s great that media has been democratized by new technology, but just because a client can shoot a web video or a TV spot on their iPhone and cut it together on their laptop, doesn’t mean they should. Now more than ever, concepts, quality production values, and consistency are key if you want to make an impact.

One thing I’ve always stood by is that you don’t win when you underestimate the audience or treat them like a bunch of rubes. Today’s audience is media-savvy, sophisticated, and appreciative of quality and style. Look at what’s on TV. Look at the food world. Things are being executed on a higher level than ever before.

Businesses need to think big and not be afraid to take a risk.

Darby O’Brien is a principal with Darby O’Brien, an independent, family-run branding, design, advertising, and public-relations firm headquartered in South Hadley; (413) 533-7045.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Karl Stinehart (left) and Doug Moglin

Karl Stinehart (left) and Doug Moglin say Southwick is an ideal spot to live, work, and play, with plenty of opportunties for all three.

Many communities, Doug Moglin notes, tout themselves as a great place to live, or an ideal spot to do business, or a haven for recreation.

“But we have all three,” said the chair of Southwick’s Board of Selectmen. “I’m one of those people who do all three in town, and we still have room for more of all those things.”

On the residential front, for example, work continues on 26 homes at the new Noble Steed subdivision off Vining Hill Road. Meanwhile, the Southwick Country Club site is being sold to Fiore Realty, which intends to develop more homes and perhaps some mixed-use properties along College Highway.

Golf enthusiasts in town shouldn’t fret, though, said Karl Stinehart, the town’s chief administrative officer, noting that Southwick boasts three other golf courses, including the PGA-level track at the Ranch. The community’s recreational offerings run far deeper than that, actually, from the Congamond Lakes and the boating opportunities there to a fully developed rail trail; from motocross events at the Wick 338 to the 66-acre Whalley Park.

Southwick at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1770
Population: 9,502
Area: 31.7 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $17.50
Commercial Tax Rate: $17.50
Median Household Income: $52,296
Family Household Income: $64,456
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Big Y; Whalley Computer Associates; Southwick Regional School District
*Latest information available

On the business front, meanwhile, the town’s industrial park continues to thrive with its mix of high-tech, light-industrial, and other types of firms, while a series of major infrastructure projects ease the path for motorists seeking out those aforementioned opportunities to live, work, and play in this community of just under 10,000 residents.

“It’s just a great place,” said Stinehart, Southwick’s chief administrative officer. “People who live in our community have all the right pieces — access to recreational opportunities, good schools, business, and commerce. We also have the ability to have more capacity — more business and commerce here.”

And plenty more fun.

Great Outdoors

Indeed, Southwick has long prided itself on its recreational opportunities, and they have only grown in prominence over the past several years.

Take the lakes on the south side of town — featuring two boat ramps, a fishing pier, and a town beach — which provide an array of activity for residents. A planned $275,000 project will renovate the south boat ramp on Berkshire Avenue, and the beachfront was recently renovated as well.

Ongoing efforts to preserve open space nearby are also gaining ground, as the town hopes to acquire a 144-acre parcel for sale on North Pond at Congamond Lakes. The Mass. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife awarded Southwick money to help purchase it, and the Franklin Land Trust has embarked on a fund-raising effort to make up the difference in price. The parcel is abutted by two areas owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the state of Connecticut.

Outdoors enthusiasts can also enjoy access to the natural scenery of the Metacomet/Monadnock Trail, as well as a 6.5-mile-long linear park, or rail trail, that runs through town, from the Westfield border to the Suffield border. “It gets a ton of use on weekends during spring, summer, and fall — even the winter, before the snow flies,” Moglin noted.

Bikers can park in a number of spots along the trail to start their ride, and, in fact, expanding parking is one of the challenges the town is studying, he added. But the fact that the trail skirts close to several commercial areas of town is a benefit to stores and restaurants when bikers take a break to enjoy a meal or shopping.

People who live in our community have all the right pieces — access to recreational opportunities, good schools, business, and commerce. We also have the ability to have more capacity — more business and commerce here.”

“People can take advantage of these businesses,” Stinehart said. “I often see people riding off the trail to make use of these commercial areas.”

The Wick 338, the motocross track behind the American Legion, is another major draw. “They’ve put a lot of investment into the track, which abuts the Southwick Recreation Center and Whalley Park, so the spinoff benefits are significant,” Stinehart said.

The complex hosts the annual Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship — which is broadcast live on NBC and draws close to 20,000 people to town — as well as a host of other events, including Rugged Maniac New England, a challenging, mud-splattered 5K obstacle course.

“People of varying levels of capability can do that, from people who can do it in 20 minutes to those who take four hours — we’re somewhere in the middle,” Stinehart said with a laugh and a nod to Moglin.

The selectman agreed, again noting that more than 10,000 people may show up. “That’s an economic driver as well as a great recreational opportunity.”

As for Whalley Park — which was donated to the town by the prominent Whalley family and developed using municipal and Community Preservation Act funds — it includes a full-size soccer field, baseball field, and softball field, lighting for the fields, a huge kids’ play area, and a pavilion.

On the Right Road

Speaking of kids, a recent $69 million project was completed two years ago at the complex on Feeding Hills Road that houses Woodland Elementary School, Powder Mill Middle School, and Southwick Regional School, all of which enjoyed additions and renovations.

Meanwhile, the town just finished the total reconstruction of a half-mile stretch of Route 57 that runs by the school complex, including new turn lanes, synchronized signals, drainage, and road widening. That’s important, Moglin said, because businesses access the road from the industrial park, and parents and bus drivers appreciate the safety upgrades where the school lots dump out onto 57. “It makes for improved public safety and better flow of people and goods.”

It’s not a standalone project; stretches of College Highway, or Routes 10 and 202 — the main commercial artery in Southwick — were similarly widened and reconfigured within the last five years, and Congamond Road, a key entry into town from Connecticut, is next on the docket, with a project commencing in the spring to improve the roadway and drainage, with a possible sewer component as well, which will help attract new business ventures to the busy neighborhood.

“That’s all serviced by septic today, which limits potential for pad sites,” Moglin said. “It would be a job creator if we can get sewer lines in there.”

Overall, though, the town offers plenty of incentives for businesses, both he and Stinehart noted, ranging from proximity to Bradley International Airport to a singular tax rate of $17.50 per $1,000 for both residential and commercial properties. “That’s an overreaching goal of the Board of Selectmen,” Moglin said of the rate. “We have really tried to keep that reasonable and competitive.”

The town has also streamlined its permitting process, bringing together planning, zoning, and other officials to work together with prospective businesses, rather than fragmenting the process.

“We’ve got capacity for small, medium, and large employers to come to Southwick,” he continued. “We’re working collaboratively with employers in town who want to expand or who want to move to Southwick, and we’ll put together a partnership to go through the process.”

Stinehart emphatically agreed. “Southwick is open for business,” he said — and open for much more, as well.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Company Notebook Departments

Vibra Hospital to Close Springfield Facility in March

SPRINGFIELD — Vibra Hospital, a 220-bed long-term acute care center on State Street, has filed notice with the state that it plans to close. The shutdown will occur in March, the hospital said in a press release. “We have struggled with this decision,” Gregory Toot, CEO of Vibra’s Springfield operations, said. “But reductions in healthcare reimbursement and changes in referral practices over the past 12 months have made continuing operations in this location unsustainable.” Vibra said its facilities in New Bedford and the Rochdale village of Leicester will remain open. Vibra’s Springfield facility has three units with approximately 90 patients: a chronic-care hospital unit, a behavioral-health skilled-nursing unit, and a Department of Mental Health (DMH) psychiatric unit. Vibra is working with the DMH and Department of Public Health to place patients in other facilities.

Monson Savings Bank Seeks Input on Charitable Giving

MONSON — For the eighth year in a row, Monson Savings Bank is asking the community to help plan the bank’s community-giving activities by inviting people to vote for the organizations they would like the bank to support during 2018. “Every year we donate over $100,000 to nonprofit organizations doing important work in the communities we serve,” said Steve Lowell, president of Monson Savings Bank. “For several years now, we’ve been asking the community for input on which groups they’d like us to support, and we’ve been so pleased by how many people participate. We have learned of new organizations through this process, and we also just like the idea of asking our community for input. As a community bank, we think that’s important.” To cast their vote, people can visit www.monsonsavings.bank/about-us/vote-community-giving. There, they will see a list of organizations the bank has already supported in 2017 and provide up to three names of groups they’d like the bank to donate to in 2018. The only requirement is that the organizations be nonprofit and provide services in Hampden, Monson, Wilbraham, or Ware. The voting ends at 3 p.m. on Jan. 17, 2018. The bank pledges to support the top 10 vote getters and will announce who they are by the end of January.

Meredith-Springfield Associates Named Manufacturer of the Year

LUDLOW — Meredith-Springfield Associates Inc., a plastics manufacturer specializing in extrusion blow molding and injection stretch blow molding, was recently named ‘Manufacturer of the Year’ by the Commonwealth’s Manufacturing Caucus. President and CEO Mel O’Leary recently accepted the award alongside Director of Finance and Administration Edward Kaplan during a presentation at the Massachusetts State House.

Red Lion Inn Wins Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Award

STOCKBRIDGE — Condé Nast Traveler recently announced the results of its 30th annual Readers’ Choice Awards, with the Red Lion Inn recognized as a “Top Hotel in New England” with a ranking of 29. “It’s an honor to be recognized by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler, and this award is particularly special because it reflects the opinions of our guests,” said Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality, owner and operator of the historic inn. “This prestigious award speaks to the inn’s lasting character and our dedicated staff who make it feel like a home away from home for our guests.” More than 300,000 readers submitted millions of ratings and tens of thousands of comments, voting on a record-breaking 7,320 hotels and resorts, 610 cities, 225 islands, 468 cruise ships, 158 airlines, and 195 airports. The Red Lion Inn, a charter member of Historic Hotels of America, has been providing food and lodging to guests for more than two centuries. The inn offers 125 antique-filled rooms and suites, four restaurants with formal and casual dining with locally sourced food, a gift shop featuring locally made items, a pub with nightly entertainment, and a range of amenities including wi-fi, a year-round heated outdoor pool, and in-room massage therapy and weekly yoga classes.

Cambridge College, ILI Announce Partnership

SPRINGFIELD — Cambridge College and the International Language Institute of Massachusetts (ILI) recently announced a partnership through the University Pathways Program. Through this partnership, international students in the University Pathways track receive the academic support and counseling they need to help them transition successfully to Cambridge College. ILI carefully selects its partner colleges and universities. Cambridge College was selected because of its program offerings and commitment to the adult-learning model. “I am so excited that we have formed this partnership,” said Teresa Forte, director, Cambridge College – Springfield. “Both organizations are committed to working with the adult community. ILI is an impressive organization, and this agreement will allow both schools to expand our international footprint and serve more students in need.” The partnership provides an opportunity for international students who attend and successfully graduate from the ILI to be exempt from taking the TOEFL exam for admissions at Cambridge College and its 13 other partner schools. Additionally, the institute offers free part-time afternoon and evening English classes at its downtown Northampton site. “We are so pleased to welcome Cambridge College to the University Pathways Program, and we look forward to working with the college in welcoming students from around the world for study in the United States. When strong, like-minded partners team up, the opportunities are limitless,” said Caroline Gear, executive director, International Language Institute of Massachusetts.

Chicopee Savings Foundation Endows Scholarship at WNEU

SPRINGFIELD — Chicopee Savings Bank Charitable Foundation recently pledged to establish an endowed scholarship available to undergraduate students at Western New England University. With a commitment of $50,000, a scholarship of $2,000 will be available annually beginning in the 2018-19 academic year. The Chicopee Savings Bank Charitable Foundation created the scholarship to support students in local communities. The scholarship will provide financial assistance to inbound students in pursuit of higher education who demonstrate exemplary scholastic achievement, drive, and integrity, and who meet the following criteria: a U.S. citizen and resident of Agawam, Chicopee, Holyoke, Ludlow, South Hadley, Springfield, Ware, West Springfield, or Westfield who demonstrates financial need and is an incoming freshman with a high-school GPA of 3.5 or higher, or a transfer or returning student with a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher. The scholarship is renewable each year the recipient continues to meet the criteria. “Scholarship aid is among the highest funding priorities at Western New England University, and we are thrilled to have this new award established by our neighbors and friends at the Chicopee Savings Bank Charitable Foundation,” said Anthony Caprio, president of Western New England University. “Providing financial assistance helps ensure that students are able to concentrate on their studies and focus on their futures more clearly.” In April 2016, it was announced that Chicopee Savings Bank would merge with Westfield Bank to form the largest bank headquartered in Hampden County. Both banks now do business under the Westfield Bank name, but the Chicopee Savings Bank Charitable Foundation remains in place with its original philanthropic mission.

Elms College, University of Kochi Extend 20-year Exchange Program

CHICOPEE — Elms College signed an agreement on Nov. 29 continuing its international exchange program with the University of Kochi in Japan. The exchange relationship is celebrating its 20th year. Harry Dumay, president of Elms College, and Takahiro Ioroi, academic vice president of the University of Kochi — one of the original faculty members involved in starting the exchange program — signed the agreement in Dumay’s office at Elms. Every year, visiting students from Kochi spend nearly two weeks exploring life at Elms. The Kochi students stay in residence halls at Elms, study English, attend classes related to their majors, and take in local sights and cuisine. They participate in extracurricular activities — including bowling, shopping in Northampton, film screenings, and a karaoke party — that show them the fun side of American college life, and they host a Japanese festival each year to share their culture with the students of Elms. “We want to promote international education and exchange, because never, in our global society that’s always changing, has international education and exchange been as important as it is now,” said Marco Garcia, director of International Programs at Elms. During the visit, nearly 40 Elms students serve as ‘friendship partners’ for the Japanese students. These friendship partners participate in a three-hour training course to act as roommates, classmates, and partners in language and cultural activities. Friendship partners are one of the most important aspects of the program, Garcia said. “As the Japanese students come in, we want them to meet a diverse group of students here, so they have a deeper understanding of American life and culture. Our students are very diverse. And that’s really important, because we are a nation of immigrants, and understanding the strength of our diversity is very important.” In addition to Ioroi, the representatives from the University of Kochi are Dr. Joel Joos, a native of Belgium who is a professor of Japanese Cultural Studies and chair of the International Exchange Committee; and Mariko Hayashi, International Center associate.

WSU, GCC Announce Nursing-degree Partnership

NORTHAMPTON — The presidents of Westfield State University and Greenfield Community College announced and signed an agreement today that creates a hybrid (combined online and onsite) RN-to-BSN completion program between the institutions. Based online and at GCC’s newly opened Northampton satellite location, the program provides GCC’s associate-degree graduates and other area registered nurses a flexible, convenient, and cost-effective pathway to a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree from Westfield State. Students will take the majority of courses online and fulfill the limited on-site requirements at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton. With a price tag of $10,800, its leaders say, the RN-to-BSN completion program is the most cost-effective in the area. Applications are currently being accepted for fall 2018 enrollment.

CHD to Serve More Youth with New Ware Office

WARE — CHD, which for many years has provided mental-health services to the Ware community, is establishing its first physical presence in Ware with an office at 2 South St. This will enable CHD to extend services in Ware as well as neighboring communities. CHD will begin accepting referrals for mental-health services for youth through CHD’s Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI). CHD’s CBHI services are for MassHealth members, who can access the services without a co-pay. “CHD has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with the residents of Ware, but this will be the first time we have a facility located right in the town of Ware,” said Susan Sullivan, program director of CHD’s Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative, which includes the In-Home Services and Therapeutic Mentoring programs. “Our new facility at 2 South St. is fully staffed with six licensed clinicians, four therapeutic training and support staff, and three therapeutic mentors, all with multiple years of experience.” There are many behavioral symptoms that CHD’s CBHI services can help address, such as difficulty concentrating on schoolwork, depression and/or anxiety, challenging behavior at home, reports of in-class behavioral issues, substance use, sudden mood changes, and aggressive, suicidal, or homicidal behavior. According to Sullivan, CHD’s CBHI services are for any child who can’t have their mental-health needs met in a one-hour-a-week outpatient setting. “What differentiates CBHI from outpatient services is our services are designed for children and families who need a higher level of care,” she explained. “That’s why we go to them — to their home, to a location in the community, to team meetings at school, to court — wherever a family needs our support, as often as needed. There is no time frame that limits our work with children and their families. We continue our work as long as there is medical necessity and the family needs us. Someone from CHD is available every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. someone is on call. That is not the case with outpatient services.” Parents who are on MassHealth and who have concerns about their child’s behavior at home or at school can self-refer by calling CHD Central Registration at (844) CHD-HELP. There is currently no wait list for services, so children can be seen immediately. “Most people don’t realize that families can self-refer,” said Sullivan. “That call to CHD Central Registration gets families connected with people who know the world of mental-health services and can get them pointed in the right direction. Keep in mind that CBHI services are voluntary. It’s your choice to have CHD there, and you drive the treatment plan. We aren’t only working with the child, we work with everyone involved in their life who can have an impact, such as the people they’re living with and their extended family. The average age of the children we serve are between the ages of 8 and 13, but we serve youth from birth through age 21, and once an individual turns 21, CHD can help get them connected to services for adults.” Cities and towns covered through the Ware CHBI office include Hampden, Wilbraham, Ludlow, Monson, Palmer, Ware, Belchertown, Wales, Brimfield, Holland, Warren, West Brookfield, Hardwick, Barre, Brookfield, North Brookfield, East Brookfield, Sturbridge, New Braintree, Spencer, and Three Rivers. Additional cities and towns are also served through various locations throughout the Pioneer Valley.

DiGrigoli School of Cosmetology Honored by Modern Salon Media

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Modern Salon Media has named the 2017 class of “Excellence in Education” honorees in its seventh annual program recognizing leadership and best practices among cosmetology schools. DiGrigoli School of Cosmetology was chosen to represent excellence in the following categories: Community Involvement, Marketing, and School Culture. Modern Salon Publisher Steve Reiss announced the honorees during the recent American Assoc. of Cosmetology Schools 2017 convention in Las Vegas. Honorees were determined based on key criteria in each category, and grouped according to number of locations. Honorees were chosen in each category — one individual school location and a multi-location school organization. “We received applications from cosmetology schools across the country and look forward to celebrating all the 2017 Excellence in Education honorees and sharing their stories. It is truly a great time to pursue a beauty education and career, and the program at DiGrigoli School of Cosmetology exemplifies that fact,” Modern Salon Editorial Director Michele Musgrove said. Added Paul DiGrigoli, owner of DiGrigoli School of Cosmetology, “I want to express my sincere gratitude to all of our students and staff for following the ‘three C’s,’ which we practice every day — culture, community, and customer service. These are our strongest values and beliefs at DiGrigoli.” Sharing stories of innovation, inspiration, and collaboration from a diverse group of leading schools is an important part of Modern Salon’s “Excellence in Education” mission, Musgrove explained. “We want to help spread the word about the exceptional work cosmetology schools are doing to help launch beautiful careers.”

HCC Awarded Grant to Expand Community Health Worker Program

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College has been awarded a grant of more than $400,000 from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to expand its Community Health Worker program in partnership with area employers. The four-year, $431,227 allocation will enable approximately 120 people to take a series of three credit-bearing classes to enhance their education and training as community health workers.The three classes — free for those accepted into the grant program — were selected in consultation with representatives from Behavioral Health Network and the Gandara Center, two regional, nonprofit behavioral-health agencies. “We’re partnering with BHN and Gandara, and they’re sending a bunch of their current staff who are already working in various capacities with clients,” said Rebecca Lewis, chair of HCC’s Foundations of Health program. “There’s been interest from a lot of different employers.”The grant was awarded through HRSA’s Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training division. HRSA is part of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. The initial cohort of 27 students will take the first of three required classes, “Core Competencies for Community Health Workers,” during the spring 2018 semester. That introductory course will be followed over the summer with the second, where students will have a choice of either “Children’s Behavioral Health” or a more general “Essential Health for Community Health Workers” course. The third class, to be completed in the fall, is a practicum with an area employer. Lewis said the state Department of Public Health currently has regulations pending for a state certification process for community health workers, and the three classes align with pending regulations. A second cohort of 30 students will begin in the fall when courses will be offered in the evenings and on Saturdays to make it more convenient for those currently working. Community health is an emerging healthcare field, and community health workers are typically employed by agencies to focus on underserved populations, conducting home visits and connecting clients with needed services. They are not nurses nor home health aides and do not provide medical care. “Historically, community health workers are bilingual and bicultural, and they’re from the communities that they serve,” said Lewis. Upon successful completion of the three-course series, students will receive a certificate of completion that can serve as a stand-alone community health worker credential. Or the nine HCC credits they earn can be ‘stacked,’ that is, applied toward a full Community Health Worker certificate (26 credits), an associate degree in Foundations of Health, or an associate degree in Human Services. “Some people might want to work in a more clinical healthcare setting, like working in a health center,” Lewis said. “Some people might want to work for a social-service agency.” Two years ago, HCC became the first area institution to start a Community Health Worker certificate program with an eye toward pending state regulations that would allow the college to apply to become an official training site.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Jennifer Tabakin

Jennifer Tabakin says Great Barrington is making important progress in efforts to attract young people and young families to the community.


Jennifer Tabakin acknowledged that, figuratively speaking, at least, City Hall in New York and Town Hall in Great Barrington are much more than 125 or so miles apart.

In most all ways, they’re worlds apart, and she should know, because she’s worked in both settings, and is firmly entrenched in the latter as town manager.

In New York, she worked for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for several years. To be more specific, she worked under the deputy mayor for Economic Development after a stint in state government with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority working on capital projects.

“I did construction and operation coordination in lower Manhattan, and worked on parks, waterfront parks, and other projects in the Bronx, as well as being a general policy advisor,” she told BusinessWest, adding that, while she greatly enjoyed that work, she decided to leave Manhattan for a different kind of challenge, that of managing a small community — and a much different kind of lifestyle — in the summer of 2013.

“From my perspective, being able to have a career first in city government and then transitioning to local government in a town has been a great opportunity to add another chapter to a very interesting career,” she explained, adding that she chose Great Barrington for this transition, as she called it, for several reasons.

For starters, she was familiar with it — her parents have long lived in nearby Lenox — and she admired its mix of rural beauty and a bustling downtown and vibrant arts scene. But there was more, in the category of professional challenges.

“It had a diversity of really interesting projects and issues, and an engaged and active community,” she noted. “It had enough challenges so that I thought it was a great place to be a town manager.”

And while she acknowledged the many differences between Gotham and the region within the Berkshires known as South County, she said that, overall, the basic principles of economic development are pretty much the same in both settings — primarily, it comes down to making the community in question a better one in which to live, work, play, and start a business, and using public investments to do all that and spur private investment.

Tabakin said she saw that formula work in New York, and she’s seeing it bring progress in Great Barrington, as well. Indeed, a number of public investments, including a huge reconstruction project in the city’s already-thriving downtown as well as road upgrades, two bridge-reconstruction initiatives, and upgrades to the wastewater-treatment plant, have coincided with, and in many ways inspired, a host of private investments.

These have come in many forms, including new restaurants — the town now boasts more than 77 of them — additional housing developments, mixed-use projects, and a host of arts-focused initiatives.

At or certainly near the top of that list is an ambitious undertaking known as St. James Place. Opened in 2017 as a home to small and mid-sized Berkshire County arts groups in need of performance, rehearsal, and office space, it was, as the name suggests, created out of the historic St. James Episcopal Church on Main Street by Sally and Fred Harris, parishioners who wanted to do something to preserve the deteriorating landmark.

Today, billing itself as “a place for art,” this facility is living up to both that tagline and its significant promise as a setting for many forms of artistic expression.

It recently hosted an intriguing seminar called “Close Encounters with Music: The Politics of Opera,” and on Dec. 9 it will host a performance of the Berkshire Children’s Chorus. Later next month, it will be home to the Great Barrington Holiday Arts Market and a performance by the group Crescendo called “Three Wise Kings Follow a Star.”

SEE: Great Barrington at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 7,104 (0000)
Area: 45.8 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $14.60
Commercial Tax Rate: $14.60
Median Household Income: $95,490
Median Family Income: $103,135
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Fairview Dialysis Center; Fairview Hospital; Kutscher’s Sports Academy; Prairie Whale
* Latest information available

Meanwhile, several of the office spaces for lease have been filled by arts-related groups such the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, Flying Cloud, and the Berkshire Opera, and the facility is home to the People’s Pantry.

“The idea is to have a place that supports the community, and we do that in a number of ways,” said Fred Harris, adding that the nonprofit, like most, operates as a business would and is making strides it its efforts to be successful economically.

There are many other inspiring stories like the one that has unfolded at St. James Place, said Tabakin, adding that, while there are many issues to contend with, including an aging population, there is a great deal of momentum and positive energy in this jewel of southern Berkshire County.

Progress Report

Getting back to the circumstances that brought her and her family to Great Barrington, Tabakin said familiarity and quality of life were certainly big factors. But there was also that chance to put the considerable experience she accumulated in New York to work addressing an intriguing set of issues and challenges that sold her on the job she’s now in.

“It’s extremely busy and its very active,” she said of the community. “But there’s an enormous amount of interesting projects and land-use issues and policy issues, and budget issues … there was and is a lot going on.”

Indeed, while there are many priorities, one of the biggest is attracting more young families to the community. Like other towns in rural Berkshire and Franklin counties, Great Barrington has seen the average age of its residents rise in recent years, said Tabakin, noting that the community has always been a popular spot for retirees, and there are a number of New Yorkers with second (usually summer) homes in town.

But unlike many other communities, Great Barrington seems to be making great strides in attracting young people and especially young families, she went on, adding that it has many of the necessary ingredients, including attractive housing, quality schools, a vibrant downtown, a burgeoning cultural community, outdoor activities, and more.

Including perhaps that most important ingredient: jobs. They come in a number of sectors, including education (Simons Rock of Bard College is located within the town); healthcare (Fairview Hospital); technology (perhaps a dozen IT companies call the town home); the arts and tourism, the nonprofit community, and even special effects — there are a few such studios located in Great Barrington.

“Over the past several years, we’ve seen more young people move to certain areas of town,” she explained. “It’s observable, and there are reasons for it; we did a renovation of a new playground, we have cultural events that appeal to different generations, and we have a lot of people moving here who are committed to the school system.”

The opportunity to work with a broad team of officials to build this portfolio of attractive qualities is big part of what brought Tabakin to South County, and she noted that there are some new chapters to the story being written.

They include a project to build a new home for the Berkshire Co-op on Bridge Street, new construction that will also include space for smaller retail outlets, said Tabakin, adding that the co-op’s current location will be razed to make room for a condominium project. Overall, this project will achieve a number of ends.

“What this will do is open up the entirety of Bridge Street to additional development,” she explained. “And it’s adjacent to Berkshire Community College’s South County campus, an area that has already seen a lot of activity, so that’s exciting. And this will help us maintain a mixed downtown, where you have residential, working places, shops, and restaurants.”

Also in the works is an ambitious project in the village of Housatonic, an old mill town within Great Barrington populated by art galleries and people who have stayed there long after the mills closed.

The town had issued an RFP for redevelopment of the century-old elementary school in Housatonic, said Tabakin, and a local group of partners has come forward and is now working on the planning phase for the project. Preliminary plans call for business-incubator space and some commercial space on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.

As for St. James Place, Harris said the facility is, as he noted, making great strides toward meeting its broad mission and breaking even financially.

While doing so, it has become an important component — one of many, actually — in an emerging story of a community now hitting a lot of high notes, both figuratively, but also (especially in the historic church building) quite literally.

“The town has a great deal of depth,” said Harris. “And it has a great audience base, and it has more than enough vitality to attract people. There are a lot of good things happening here.”

Optimistic View

Looking back on what has transpired since she arrived as town manager, Tabakin said that, beyond the new developments, restaurants, and capital projects, maybe her biggest accomplishment has been to inspire others to get involved with the community and be part of the many forms of progress taking place.

Indeed, there has been plenty to get involved with, including everything from ‘green’ initiatives such as a ban on plastic bags and sustainable-energy initiatives to work in the schools, neighborhoods, and amply green spaces the town works diligently to preserve.

“One of the things I’ve done is to share my passion for local government, and I’ve gotten a group of people enthusiastic about being involved,” she told BusinessWest. “And I’m proud of it, because it’s so critically important at this period of time that we all do what we can to make sure we’re actively participating in making our place, our home, our community a wonderful place to live.

“It’s a wonderful learning opportunity and brings people together,” she said of this heightened involvement. “And from that, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot and serve as a model for other places.”

And while a great deal has been accomplished, there is a general sense that, that when it comes to forward progress, this community is just getting started.

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

Daily News

STOCKBRIDGECondé Nast Traveler recently announced the results of its 30th annual Readers’ Choice Awards, with the Red Lion Inn recognized as a “Top Hotel in New England” with a ranking of 29.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler, and this award is particularly special because it reflects the opinions of our guests,” said Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality, owner and operator of the historic inn. “This prestigious award speaks to the inn’s lasting character and our dedicated staff who make it feel like a home away from home for our guests.”

More than 300,000 readers submitted millions of ratings and tens of thousands of comments, voting on a record-breaking 7,320 hotels and resorts, 610 cities, 225 islands, 468 cruise ships, 158 airlines, and 195 airports.

The Red Lion Inn, a charter member of Historic Hotels of America, has been providing food and lodging to guests for more than two centuries. The inn offers 125 antique-filled rooms and suites, four restaurants with formal and casual dining with locally sourced food, a gift shop featuring locally made items, a pub with nightly entertainment, and a range of amenities including wi-fi, a year-round heated outdoor pool, and in-room massage therapy and weekly yoga classes.

Community Profile Features

‘Something’s Bubbling’

Downtown Greenfield

Downtown Greenfield is becoming a destination, as are other communities in Franklin County.

Franklin County, the state’s most rural county, and also its poorest, faces a host of challenges today — from a declining and aging population to poor broadband service in most of its communities, to statistically lower wages for comparable jobs. But those working to spur economic development and improve quality of life here see progress in many forms and vast opportunities to attract the young people who covet many of things this region can offer them.

John Lunt was looking to make a point about Franklin County in general, and the amount of developable land in and around Greenfield in particular, and to do so effectively, he recalled a recent conversation he had with Jay Ashe, the state’s secretary of Housing and Economic Development.

“We were talking about land that small precision manufacturers could potentially develop on, and he said something like, ‘you’re in Western Mass., Franklin County — you must have a ton of land,’” said Lunt, director of Special Projects and Economic Development in Greenfield, adding quickly that this is not the case at all.

“The land that we have available for those kinds of manufacturing jobs is pretty much gone,” he explained, referring especially to Greenfield. “We have some land that’s zoned ‘planned industrial,’ but there isn’t a business in the world that would build on it because of slope and ledge and things that make it to difficult to prepare.”

John Lunt

John Lunt says collaboration is a necessary quality in rural Franklin County, as is independence and an entrepreneurial approach to progress.

Lunt recalled his conversation with Ashe to make another point — that many of the perceptions about rural Franklin County, like the one about land to develop, are not exactly on the mark.

Others include the widely held belief that families and businesses do not want to locate there, the notion that the region doesn’t have much of what the Millennial generation is looking for, and the perception that manufacturing is all but dead in a region that had been economically dominated by it for centuries.

“Manufacturing is still doing very well here, but it’s changed somewhat; many large companies involved in traditional manufacturing have left,” said Patricia Crosby, executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board. “Many smaller ones have stayed, and new companies have come here; they’re mostly involved in precision manufacturing or fabricated metals, and they’re doing extremely well, and they’re adding a few employees each year.”

Meanwhile, others we spoke with said Franklin County is, in fact, becoming a landing spot for Millennials — generally older Millennials who are ready to settle down, and especially those who are active and into outdoor sports (much more on that later).

Unfortunately, though, many other perceptions about this region are far more accurate, to the point where they become statistics. These include the fact that this is the poorest county in the state; that wages here are well below the state average for comparable jobs — a real factor in the region’s struggles to attract young people; that broadband service doesn’t exist in many of the communities in the county; that public transportation is sorely lacking; that the age of the population in those communities is rising at almost alarming levels; and that, while unemployment is fairly low at 3%, this is a misleading statistic because many individuals have stopped looking for work, and others are unemployable.

But while rural Franklin County has more than its fair share of challenges, there are a number of signs of progress and abundant hope that there will be many more in the months and years to come.

Start with the Five Eyed Fox, a restaurant and bar in Turners Falls that is making that community just east of Greenfield a destination and what some even called a ‘hot spot,’ a term not used in that community for some time.

“It’s super hip and cool to be in Turners Falls,” said Natalie Blais, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, and also the local tourism board. “It’s the place to be; Turners is sort of leading this whole retro, hip scene.”

It’s super hip and cool to be in Turners Falls. It’s the place to be; Turners is sort of leading this whole retro, hip scene.”

Then there’s the Orange Innovation Center, a co-working space in a community in what’s known as the North Quabbin area, the eastern edge of the county. Created in a factory where General Foods once produced Minute Tapioca pudding for roughly seven decades, the space now hosts an eclectic group of tenants ranging from a music studio and to a fitness club to the Center for Human Development.

And at Greenfield Community College (GCC), the only college in the county, a number of new programs have been created to help provide job seekers with the skills they’ll need to succeed in a changing, information-based economy.

Linda Dunleavy

Linda Dunleavy says Franklin County is becoming an attractive landing spot for what she called ‘older Millennials,’ who are looking for a place to settle down.

Perhaps most importantly, though, an ecosystem is emerging. It’s comprised of a number of nonprofits, the college, government entities, and employers across several sectors, and while it’s still taking shape and finding its bearings, it is addressing the issues and problems facing the region through collaboration and efforts to maximize available resources. And it is also taking a more organized approach to the work of bringing families, businesses, young people, retirees — and opportunity — to the region.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with several individuals who are part of this ecosystem about the various forms of progress being recorded — and the considerable work that remains.

Buy the Numbers

Collaboration is needed because the challenges facing Franklin County are numerous, and many of them are complex and defy easy answers — or any answers, for that matter.

Indeed, after talking about how wages in Franklin County are statistically lower than those in other areas and roughly 65% of what is paid statewide, Crosby, who noted that it’s been this way since she came to the REB 16 years ago, was asked the obvious question: why?

She paused for a moment and said simply, “because employers can get away with it.” And they can, because the factors that drive wages higher in other areas — a scarcity of workers and heightened competition for qualified talent — are not in evidence here, with some exceptions, as we’ll see.

That statistic regarding wages is only one of many eye-opening numbers that come to the forefront when talking about Franklin County. Many of the others drive home just how rural this area is: there are 72,000 people living in 26 communities across 725 square miles. In several communities, such as Rowe, Hawley, Heath, and others, stating the total population requires only three digits. In Monroe, one barely needs three; the latest census had 121 people living there.

The people living in those 26 towns are the poorest in the state in terms of per-capita income and, as noted, average wage per job, said Linda Dunleavy, executive director of the Franklin Region Council of Governments.

And, by and large, the population of the county is falling, said Alyce Stiles, dean of Workforce Development & Community Education at GCC. She said the enrollment at the county’s public schools is down significantly in recent years — which doesn’t bode well for the college or the region and its business community.

“That has layers of ramifications for us,” she said. “There are fewer people going into the community-college system, and then fewer people going into the workforce.”

And the population is getting older, said Roseann Martoccia, who should know. She’s the executive director of LifePath Inc., a nonprofit that works to help seniors age in place. She noted that 17% of the county’s residents are over age 65 (the state average is 15%), and in some of the smaller, western communities, the number exceeds 20%.

“And those percentages, in some communities, are expected to double by 2030,” she told BusinessWest. “And that’s not that far away.”

Behind all the numbers is a kind of operating mindset, if you will, one defined by a form of independence that is understandable when one considers how far away this county is from Boston or even Springfield — and not just in terms of geography.

“Collaboration comes from necessity,” said Lunt. “We have to be more independent, and we have to be more entrepreneurial, because whether we want it or not, most people realize that help isn’t really coming from farther east.”

The statistics, as well as this mindset, are just some of the things that Cindy Russo has learned she since became president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, the county’s largest employer, roughly 18 months ago.

“I knew absolutely nothing about Franklin County before I came here, and about the only name I recognized was Yankee Candle,” she said, referring to the iconic Deerfield-based manufacturer and retailer. “Everything else, I had to learn.”

Cindy Russo

Cindy Russo, who became president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center in 2016, says she can sense gathering momentum in the region.

She’s learned, among other things, that the region has a strong sense of community spirit, as well as a great deal of natural beauty and a bounty of outdoor recreation to offer, from fishing to hiking; from skiing to whitewater rafting. She’s also learned that a large number of nonprofits operate in the region — often in collaboration with each other to meet a wide variety of missions.

She’s also come to recognize that it’s somewhat difficult to recruit doctors and other medical professionals to this rural area, despite its various amenities and lower lost of housing and living in general.

“That is certainly a challenge,” she said. “One of the biggest ways we’re able to attract people is if there’s a connection — they have family here or their roots are here — but also the beauty of this region and the hiking and other outdoor activity; those are strong selling points.”

Another challenge, meanwhile, is keeping young professionals, she said, adding that more than 50% of Baystate Franklin’s employees have less than five years of experience.

“Many times, we’ll get a new nurse from GCC, and they’ll start their practice at Baystate Franklin,” she explained. “But then they might be looking out for the sexier markets, like Boston. So we have to think of ways to keep them here.”

But since arriving, she’s observed something else — gathering momentum when it comes to the region being a destination for everything from a fun night out to a place to raise a family, to a spot where one can enjoy retirement. “There’s something bubbling here; even in the short time I’ve been here, I’m feeling it,” she said, adding that the region is becoming something it probably doesn’t want to become — a best-kept secret.

Land of Opportunity

There was some general agreement about that notion of something bubbling among those we spoke with. People talked about momentum and the region making strides toward becoming something it’s never really been, or hasn’t been for some time — a destination, on several levels.

Start with a night out — at the Five-Eyed Fox, or a growing number of alternatives.

“There’s great food and drink; there’s much more of a local arts scene than people than people think,” said Lunt. “We actually toured the Mass. Cultural Council around, and they were kind of blown away by what they saw out here.

“There are a lot of artists studios,” he went on. “There’s a lot of local theater, and Greenfield’s gone from having not that many restaurants to having 13 different kinds of cuisine. It’s not uncommon at all to do something you really couldn’t do here 10 or 15 years ago — families go out, have something to eat, and then go to a local show or theater or listen to some music.”

And then, there’s tourism in general. Blais said the region has built a solid infrastructure of attractions that includes ski resorts, ziplining and whitewater-rafting outfits, fishing, boating, and more, and needs to more aggressively promote what it has and build that important sector of the economy.

But those within this ecosystem also talked about destination in a bigger sense — as in a place for a family to settle or a business to put down roots.

And some younger families are moving into Greenfield and other communities, like Turners Falls, because of what they offer, said Blais.

“There’s lots of culture and live music,” she explained. “And with all the breweries and cideries in the region, we’re really seeing young people being interested in coming here.”

Dunleavy agreed, but narrowed the definition of ‘young’ somewhat. She said the region is more attractive to older young people, those with familes, those who might have roots in the region, or those who might have left in search of something else and now value what they left behind.

“It’s Millennials at a different stage of their life,” she said, adding that, despite recognized progress in this realm, there needs to be a large, concerted, and collaborative (there’s that word again) effort to sell the county as an attractive place to live.

“As a group of organizational leaders, we were talking about how we need to have the same mission — attracting young people and young families to Franklin County,” Dunleavy explained. “We should all identify how our organization will do that and work together to implement a region-wide strategy, because we need to bring more people to Franklin County and younger people to Franklin County.”

As for attracting businesses and jobs, the region faces a number of challenges, ranging from those broadband issues to the lack of developable land that Lunt mentioned.

“We never turn anyone away,” he said. “But we struggle when someone says, ‘we want a 40,000-square-foot building and 22 acres’ — we just don’t have that available.”

What is available are smaller lots, some old mill spaces, and office buildings downtown, he noted, adding that all of the above can be used toward something that Millennials, in general, seem to like: co-working space.

Several projects in this realm are already underway or in the planning stages, said Lunt, adding that they will helped by the town’s creation of a municipal broadband network that includes Internet, phone, and data services.

“The goal is to move people into these spaces by offering them more 21st-century infrastructure,” he explained, “because, as manufacturing-driven as we’ve been, we just can’t be in the future, because we just don’t have the space for it; we have to try to develop higher-tech businesses, and those are also businesses that pay well.”

Another challenge for the region involves the workforce. As noted earlier, unemployment is relatively low, but there are many who lack needed skills, have stopped searching for work, or are unemployable.

Stiles said the broad goal is to help individuals gain needed skills and fill positions in growing fields, such as healthcare and precision manufacturing.

She mentioned specific programs created at GGC for the precision-manufacturing and medical-assisting fields, just two of many where jobs exist and will exist in the years to come, and where companies consistently struggle to find good help.

Moving forward, she and others said the primary goal is to make the workforce larger and stronger, an initiative that is, in all ways, a work in progress.

Moving the Needle

Surveying the situation from many different angles, including that of a long-time resident and also someone working to stimulate economic development in the region, Lunt said the path Franklin County is on is the right one.

Elaborating, he said the many groups working to spur economic development and improve quality of life are moving the needle when it comes to generating progress and addressing the overriding challenge facing the county — creating enough good jobs to support the lifestyle that is the primary draw for this region.

“We could all live somewhere else, but we don’t — we choose not to,” Lunt told BusinessWest. Speaking for all those now part of the county’s emerging ecosystem, he said the broad goal is simply to inspire more people to take that same attitude.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

David Nixon says Hadley’s low tax rate, access to transportation, and mix of agriculture and commerce are among its selling points.

David Nixon says Hadley’s low tax rate, access to transportation, and mix of agriculture and commerce are among its selling points.

What a difference 300 feet makes.

“I often talk about the different views from Route 9 and the bike path,” Hadley Town Administrator David Nixon said, referring to the trail that parallels the heavily trafficked Russell Street a football field’s length away. “One is a very commercial, mercantile view, and one is a very pastoral view. And they’re right next to each other. That really makes Hadley very special — commercial, residential, and agricultural, we have it all here.”

Indeed, many out-of-towners driving along Russell Street during the day might not realize that only 5,000-plus residents call Hadley home. “That number is accurate between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m. Otherwise, it’s between 20,000 and 60,000,” Nixon said, with visitors crowding into five major shopping areas along Route 9, as well as a few facilities on the UMass Amherst campus, including McGuirk Stadium and the Mullins Center, that are actually on Hadley property.

“We have to provide services for all those residents and visitors,” he went on. “But it’s great that we get all that commercial activity. People go to a game and eat at our restaurants, which are selling something like $3 million worth of product every single month.”

The eclectic mix of eateries continues to evolve, from the Texas Roadhouse location that’s still drawing large crowds two years after its opening to its new — and very different — neighbor, Pulse, a vegan restaurant that opened a month ago where Seven Sisters Bistro and a bison farm once stood.

Other developments speak to a healthy economic landscape in Hadley. A long-planned Pride station, featuring a 6,000-square-foot convenience store, will open next spring at the foot of the Calvin Coolidge Bridge that connects the town to Northampton.

Pulse, a vegan restaurant that opened a month ago

Pulse, a vegan restaurant that opened a month ago

“They’re in the process of completing the site work now,” Nixon said, noting that Pride has also applied for a liquor license, which would make it the only gas station in town selling alcohol. “For a long time, that was a derelict set of properties — an old hotel, the old Aqua Vitae restaurant, and some residences there that had fallen into disrepair. The site was overgrown with weeds and trees, vines, and creepers.”

Meanwhile, on the heels of Autobahn Indoor Speedway opening at Hampshire Mall last fall, that complex continues to court further entertainment options. On the distinctly non-entertaining side, MedExpress just opened up an urgent-care center at a former Pizza Hut restaurant that had become a derelict property.

“It serves a need for medical treatment on this side of the river,” Nixon said. “We have Cooley Dickinson on the west side, but you have to go through some congested traffic to get there, so we’re very excited about this opportunity for people to get walk-in treatment without having to deal with as much traffic.”

Hadley at a glance:

Year Incorporated: 1661
Population: 5,250 (2010)
Area: 24.6 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $11.57
Commercial Tax Rate: $11.57
Median Household Income: $51,851
Median Family Income: $61,897
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting, Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Super Stop & Shop; Evaluation Systems Group Pearson; Elaine Center at Hadley; Home Depot; Lowe’s Home Improvement
* Latest information available

That traffic has a silver lining, of course — it means Hadley’s business culture, concentrated almost totally along Route 9, continues to drive the town’s economy. But that’s far from the whole picture, as a short walk to the bike path — and beyond — clearly shows.

Home and Away

Residential development continues apace as well, Nixon told BusinessWest. Two significant projects — East Street Commons, which consists of 32 affordable, energy-efficient homes for people 55 and older, and a condominium complex — are nearing the occupancy stage.

Meanwhile, on the hospitality front, the city is working with Pioneer Valley Hospitality Group to develop a 96-suite hotel on the Home Depot site on Route 9.

“It’s going to fill a nice niche here in the Valley in that the rooms are suites with kitchenettes,” he explained. “People who are staying here longer than a typical hotel stay — like visiting professors and people in the consulting world — can have something more comfortable than just a hotel room they can call their home base while here.”

 

He understands the importance of the Five Colleges — UMass, Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, and Mount Holyoke — and their tens of thousands of students to the Hadley business community, but says the town is central to far more than those. “I often talk about us being part of a 30-campus community,” he explained, based on how many colleges are within an hour’s drive of Hadley.

Despite its draws, however, Hadley does face some development challenges, including the Berkshire Gas moratorium, dating from 2015, on new or expanded service in Hampshire and Franklin counties due to a lack of pipeline capacity.

“The gas moratorium remains a challenge,” Nixon said. “We submitted testimony last summer to the Mass. Department of Public Utilities in order to see if we can get some sort of relief … but, basically, nothing has changed, so we’re still looking for some short-term solutions to bridge us from where we are to when gas is flowing again — just exploring what we can do to help the business community.”

Many businesses have been able to convert to propane in the meantime, he added. “It’s not ideal, but it’ll do.”

On the other hand, Hadley is now able to offer tax-increment financing for development projects. “This is a program I successfully used in Deerfield as town administrator to promote growth in both agricultural and commercial businesses,” Nixon noted. “When I came to Hadley a dozen years ago, I wanted to offer some kind of program, but wasn’t able to because of legislative issues. Those have changed, and this is now an economic-incentive tool we can employ to develop small to medium-sized businesses in the town of Hadley.”

Meanwhile, the city continues to invest in municipal facilities and roadway infrastructure. The former includes new roofs on Town Hall, the Department of Public Works, and the public-safety complex, while the latter includes significant projects like bridge repair on Bay Road and the replacement of a century-old water line on Route 9, a project conducted in tandem with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation — which was already conducting a road-widening project on the well-traveled thoroughfare — to save on costs.

The town has also made strides with new solar and other sustainable-energy projects. “We found out just the other day that Hadley produces more renewable energy than any other town in Hampshire County,” Nixon said. “We do a very good job of producing renewable energy for the Valley.”

Experts in Their Fields

That ‘green’ priority is fitting for a town that is far more dominated by its farmland, at least in terms of sheer area, than it is by Route 9. Two years ago, the town implemented a Farmland Preservation Agreement, and has worked to transfer property-development rights to preserve farmland that is put up for sale.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we have more farmland than any other community in Massachusetts,” Nixon said. “We have six dairy farms, also more than any other community.”

On the quality-of-life front, the town has earmarked $5.3 million for a new senior center, and voters will have the opportunity in November to vote on $1.8 million in additional funding to complete that project. Residents will also vote on $3.8 million toward the construction of a new library, after the town received a $3.9 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for that project.

Those projects, if approved, will be just two more amenities in a town that boasts plenty of reasons to live and work there, Nixon said.

“This is a place that’s easy to access by multiple forms of transportation, rail and road and airports. It has a low tax rate — in the lowest 25% in the Commonwealth. We have a highly educated workforce and access to resources produced by the colleges and universities. We have clean air and water, and a well-maintained town with an AA+ bond rating from Standard & Poors. It’s a business-friendly environment with interesting spaces for families to grow together.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

DBA Certificates Departments

The following business certificates and trade names were issued or renewed during the month of September 2017.

AMHERST

Fernando Molina IT Consulting
240 West St.
Fernando Molina

Mary Moore Design
534 Main St.
Home and Homme, LLC

CHICOPEE

CL Construction
11 Falcon Circle
Chet Lokey

D & D Masonry
524 Chicopee St.
Marc Murphy, Jordan Healy, Roger Roberge

Dowco
83 Wheatland Ave.
Stephanie Dow

NextGen Farm
963 Burnett Road
Damion Campbell

PNG Home Improvement
20 Sterling St.
Pavel Gavrilyuk

Pooch Caboose, LLC
114 Wellington Ave.
Ann-Marie Malloy

DEERFIELD

Old Deerfield Antiques
663 Greenfield Road
Brian Rider

EAST LONGMEADOW

Christine Robinson
511 North Main St.
Christine Robinson

JL Communications
67 Nottingham Dr.
Janet Lupacchino

Silverson Machines Inc.
355 Chestnut St.
Harold Rothman

Standen Financial Services
296 North Main St., Suite 12
Patti Standen

Vittoria Lombardi
511 North Main St.
Vittoria Lombardi

GREENFIELD

AutoZone #3247
430 Federal St.
AutoZone Northeast, LLC

Barts Ice Cream Co.
80 School St.
Thomas Schmidt

China Gourmet
78 Mohawk Trail
Chi & Chi Restaurant Inc.

Chinese Body Work
91 Main St.
Feng Ling Wang

New England Educational Partners
66 Meadow Wood Dr.
Martha Seretta

HADLEY

B & B HVAC
91 North Maple St.
Steven Beauregard

Burning Heart South
191 Russell St., A-C
Burning Heart, LLC

HOLYOKE

Dam Café
37-39 Myrtle Ave.
Michael McMahon III, Celeste Long

Hawks at Mt. Tom
320 Easthampton Road
Linda Henderson

Jhanvi, LLC
161-165 Suffolk St.
Mitaben Patel

O’Brien’s Auto
40 Anderson Hill
Edward O’Brien Jr.

T. McGarry Home Improvement
963 Hampden St., Apt. 1
Thomas McGarry

Rescom Property Improvement
60 West Glen St.
Raquel Soto

LONGMEADOW

Anne Most, LICSW
123 Dwight Road
Anne Most

Edward D. Jones & Co., LP
175 Dwight Road
Stephanie Griffin

On Point Property Solutions
145 Porter Lake Dr.
Katie Toomy

LUDLOW

Gary Guertin Excavating
437 Holyoke St.
Gary Guertin

Mackenzie and Sons
125 Wilno Ave.
Brandon Mackenzie

Nutritional Services Consulting
54 Owens Way
Lynn Moylan

NORTHAMPTON

45 and Single
73 Barrett St., #6192
Juan Diaz

Berkshire Natural, LLC
100 Emerson Way
David Starr

Hampshire Dermatology and Skin Health Center
39A Carlon Dr.
Katherine White, M.D.

Hampshire House Publishing Co.
8 Nonotuck St.
O. Stan Freeman

Movement Voter Project
37 Kensington Ave.
William Wimsatt

Penny Lane
141 Main St.
Ronny Hazel

Picture Public Health
26 Market St.
CommunicateHealth Inc.

RAPS Real Estate
79 Masonic St.
Joseph Curran, Dan Berger

SH Construction and Hardscapes
230 Bridge St.
Steven Gosselin

VIP Nail Spa
104B Damon Road
Tommy Nguyen

SOUTHWICK

A.J. Precision Inc.
13 Industrial Road
Wade Austin

Bob Solek Masonry
183 Granville Road
Bob Solek

First Choice Nurse Staffing Services, LLC
32 George Loomis Road
Mark Beaulieu

Spotlight Trade Show Displays
9B Whalley Way
Diane DeMarco

SPRINGFIELD

Bentley’s Café
1142 Berkshire St.
Keno White II

Cam’s Snack Bar
36 Court St.
Cameron Walker

Capital Income Tax
1655 Main St.
Nathilda Ramirez

City Soul Market
700 State St.
Ruth Elizabeth

Josiah’s Landscaping
30 Harvard St.
Omar Santiago

Junny’s Transporter
37 Balis St.
Candido Borges

K and K Distribution, LLC
494 Central St.
Mohammad Tanvir

Longonot Transportation
49 Bissell Ave.
Isaac Teresia

Love of Ladies
181 Chestnut St.
Taurean Walden

Marriott Hotel Service Inc.
2 Boland Way
Bill Hess

Shooting Star Dance Center
1196 Parker St.
Carol Boardway-Chapin

Torres Multi Services
217A Berkshire Ave.
Beury Torres

Trevor Wholesales
823 Armory St.
Trevor Dufault

Weemans Custom Vinyl
98 Whittier St.
Johnny Vidal

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Designs for Everyday Living
215 Ely Ave.
Nicole Towsley

Distinctive Works
31 Lowell St.
Real Mercier

Edwin’s Quality Services
18 Kings Highway
Edwin Colon

The Loft Salon Studio
2301 Westfield St.
Ann Marie Walts

Nick Tokman
46 Bonnie Brae Dr.
Nicholas Tokman

Panera Bread
935 Riverdale St.
PR Restaurants, LLC

Roche Realty & Associates
425 Union St.
Cassie Roche

Venetian Bakery
90 Baldwin St.
Mark Maniscalchi

Willow Services
29 Glenview Dr.
Michelle Litchfield

WILBRAHAM

Realistic Solutions MR
7 Fairview Road
Mary Berard

Chamber Corners Departments

1BERKSHIRE

www.1berkshire.com

(413) 499-1600

• Nov. 1: BYP Fall Extravaganza, 5:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Hilltop Orchards, 508 Canaan Road, Richmond. Join Berkshire Young Professionals at Hilltop Orchards, home of Furnace Brook Winery, for a fall get-together. Wear flannel and boots and enjoy music, hikes into the orchards, wine tastings, Johnny Mash cider beverages, cheese plates, cider donuts, and apples galore.

• Nov. 15: Chamber Nite, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Security Supply, 50 Roberts Dr., North Adams. Remember to bring your business card to enter a drawing to win a door prize.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• Oct. 18: Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Salute Breakfast with Kay Simpson of the Springfield Museums, 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Collegian Court, 89 Park St., Chicopee. Sponsored by the Arbor Kids and Westfield Bank. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members, including breakfast buffet. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

• Oct. 19: Oktoberfest Collaborative Event with Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Munich Haus Biergarten, 13 Center St., Chicopee. Free to YPS and chamber members. Call (413) 594-2101 for more information.

• Oct. 26: Lunch & Learn: New Marijuana Legislation, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., hosted by Residence Inn, 500 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Sponsored by the Greater Chicopee Chamber and Residence Inn of Springfield/Chicopee. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members, including lunch. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• Oct. 25: The Hampshire County Tourism Council will launch its new tourism guide at Northampton Country Club, 135 Main St., Leeds, 5-7 p.m. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

• Nov. 1: Hampshire County Business Bash, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Lord Jeff Inn, 30 Boltwood Ave., Amherst. This event, a partnership of the chambers of commerce of Easthampton, Amherst, and Northampton, is sponsored by Duseau Trucking and the Lord Jeff Inn. It offers members a unique opportunity to showcase their business to a regional audience. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org, or call the chamber office at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.holyokechamber.com

(413) 534-3376

• Oct. 18: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted and sponsored by Westfield Bank, 1642 Northampton St., Holyoke. Business networking event. Refreshments, 50/50 raffle, and door prizes. Cost: $10 members, $15 for guests. Call the chamber at (413) 534-3376 to register, or sign up at holyokechamber.com.

• Oct. 25: Holyoke Chamber Business Person of the Year/Volunteer of the Year Award Dinner, 6 p.m, hosted by Delaney House, Country Club Way, Holyoke. Social hour 6-7 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m. A celebratory dinner honoring the 2017 Business Persons of the Year: Michael Hamel, owner of Hamel’s Creative Catering and the Summit View Banquet and Meeting House, and the Henry A. Fifield Volunteer of the Year, Harry Montalvo, Community Development specialist at bankESB. Cost: $65. Register online at holyokechamber.com, or call the chamber at (413) 534-3376.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com

(413) 584-1900

• Oct. 19: “Microsoft Excel: Tips, Tricks, & Shortcuts,” 9-11 a.m., presented by Pioneer Training, hosted by Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St., Northampton. This workshop will present tips, tricks, and shortcuts that we have collected and developed over 20 years of teaching and using Microsoft Excel. Participants are encouraged to bring laptops and follow along with the instructor, but this is not required. Pre-registration is required, and space is limited. Cost: $35 for members, $45 for non-members. To register, visit goo.gl/forms/My7lF9Xk1aB7xg0Q2.

• Oct. 24: Start Your Business, 9 a.m. to noon, at TD Bank, 175 Main St., Northampton. Presented by SCORE of Western MA. This three-hour workshop will help you clearly understand the details, challenges, opportunities, and rewards of owning and operating your own business. This workshop is a suggested prerequisite to our Business Planning Workshop. Cost: $25. RSVP, as space is limited. To register online, visit westernmassachusetts.score.org/content/take-workshop-38.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.springfieldregionalchamber.com

(413) 787.1555

Oct. 27: Super 60, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., hosted by Chez Josef, 176 Shoemaker Lane, Agawam. The 28th annual Super 60 awards luncheon celebrates the success of the fastest-growing privately owned businesses in the region. Cost: $60 for members in advance, $75 for non-members. Reservations for all Chamber events may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• Oct. 19: Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., hosted by Cal’s Woodfired Grill, West Springfield. Must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of your lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately that day. We cannot invoice you for these events. Register online at [email protected]

• Oct. 25: Food Fest West, 5:30-8 p.m., hosted by Springfield Country Club, West Springfield. Local restaurants show off their cuisine at this well-attended event. Vote for your favorite restaurant or enjoy a cigar on the patio of Springfield Country Club. A DJ, raffle, and entertainment round out this event. Proceeds raised by Food Fest West will go toward the Partnership for Education and the WRC Educational Fund, which provides grants to businesses for on-the-job training and continuing-education needs. Cost: $25 in advance, $35 at the door. Tickets may be purchased online by visiting www.westoftheriverchamber.com. For more information about this event, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

• Nov. 8: Multi Chamber Night of Networking & Open House, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, Burnett Road, Chicopee. Join us for an evening of networking with the Springfield Regional Chamber as we welcome our newest member to the community, Mercedes-Benz. Cost: $10 for members. Register online at www.westoftheriverchamber.com. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 426-3880.

• Nov. 16: Lunch N Learn Seminar – How to Promote your Business on Social Media, noon to 1:30 p.m., hosted by the Carriage House at Storrowton Tavern, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Enjoy lunch while learning about the do’s and don’ts of promoting one’s business on social media, including best practices, target audience, boosting, and other aspects of promotion. Cost: $30 per member or guest. Register online at www.westoftheriverchamber.com. For more information, contact the chamber at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY OF GREATER SPRINGFIELD

www.springfieldyps.com

• Oct. 18: Professional Breakfast Series: “The EQ Exchange,” 7:30-9 a.m, hosted by the Colony Club in Tower Square, Springfield. Use emotional intelligence to manage your boss. Cost: free for members, $15 for non-members.

• Oct. 19: Oktoberfest Third Thursday with Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Munich Haus. Join us for live music, light appetizers, and networking. Cost: free for members, $10 for non-members.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The West of the River Chamber of Commerce announced its annual Food Fest West will be held Wednesday, Oct. 25 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Springfield Country Club in West Springfield.

The event will feature a DJ, dancing, and food from area restaurants including Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Crestview Country Club, Hofbrauhaus, LPVEC, Main Street Deli, Nadim’s Restaurant, Partner’s Restaurant, Springfield Country Club, Sorrento’s Pizza, Souper Sweet Sandwich Shop, Storrowton Tavern, Tekoa Country Club, the Westfield State University culinary team, and more. Cigar Room II will be on hand so attendees can enjoy a cigar on the country club’s patio.

Proceeds raised by Food Fest West will benefit the Partnership for Education and the WRC Educational Fund, which provides grants to businesses for on-the-job training and continuing-education needs. Tickets are $25 in advance or $35 at the door. Tickets may be purchased online by visiting www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

 

Mayor Brian Sullivan

Mayor Brian Sullivan says his coffee hours with business owners and managers, a chamber of commerce initiative, have been eye-opening and extremely productive.

By the middle of 2018, Dan Howard says, close to 75% of Westfield residents and businesses will have access to high-speed Internet through Whip City Fiber, a division of Westfield Gas + Electric.

“The Municipal Light Board is fully behind it, as is the City Council,” said Howard, general manager of WG+E, adding that the city began funding the project back in 2014. “It’s a great collaboration that has really benefited the entire city.”

He noted that of the 41 municipal electric utilities in Massachusetts, only four are gas-and-electric entities, and only one of those four, once Westfield’s project goes online, will also provide high-speed Internet. The city will join communities like Wilson, N.C., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Longmont, Colo., as ‘gigacities,’ and will be able to showcase that fact in its marketing efforts to draw more business to town.

“You don’t have to be big manufacturer or a warehouse facility; we’re also providing access to small, upstart entrepreneurs,” he said. “People can work out of their homes and get the Internet access they need. This provides hefty benefits to communities and has proven to be an economic boost.”

Although it’s perhaps the most literal example, Whip City Fiber is just one way Westfield is making connections — between its municipal leadership, business community, residents, and educational facilities.

Take, for example, the Westfield Education to Business Alliance, which connects the city’s schools, where students are beginning to contemplate their career paths, with companies that are eager to mine local talent.

“That has gone over like gangbusters,” said Kate Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, explaining that it began last year with 15 core members and now regularly draws participation from 40 to 45 businesses.

“It’s all about workforce-development issues,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re bringing education to businesses and businesses to education. The response has been fabulous. It’s a great collaboration.”

For example, a career fair at Westfield High School in June attracted some 45 businesses, interacting with 600 students who gained exposure to the types of career opportunities available at local companies — and, more important, what skill sets they will need to take advantage of them.

That’s not all; Westfield businesses have visited elementary schools as well, and in two weeks, the collaborative will present a career fair for some 120 teachers, who will meet with local businesses and hear about their workforce challenges, with an eye toward modifying curriculum to prepare students for jobs in the regional economy.

Meanwhile, Westfield State University’s Pathways to Excellence program allows high-school students to graduate with up to nine college credits, while exposing them to career options they can think about before taking the leap to college.

“We’re working together on the future workforce, whether students choose the college path or the work path,” Phelon said. “It’s been phenomenal.”

Westfield at a glance

YEAR INCORPORATED: 1669
POPULATION: 41,094 (2010)
AREA: 47.4 square miles
COUNTY: Hampden
RESIDENTIAL TAX RATE: $19.42
COMMERCIAL TAX RATE: $37.08
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME: $45,240
MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME: $55,327
TYPE OF GOVERNMENT: Mayor, City Council
LARGEST EMPLOYERS: Westfield State University, Baystate Noble Hospital, Savage Arms Inc., Mestek Inc., Advance Manufacturing Co.

* Latest information available

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Coffee Hour, a chamber initiative launched several years ago, still draws some 30 to 40 attendees each month to a different host business, where Mayor Brian Sullivan takes questions on the state of various economic-development initiatives in the city.

“Some of these businesses have never been visited by local government,” Sullivan said. “We talk about what they need, how can we help — and it has been really productive. They might let us know they have jobs open, but find the talent, and we can hook them into other people we know, and the connections Kate has.”

Taken as a whole, these initiatives and others speak to a growing sense that Westfield aims to grow through open communication and productive connections. And those efforts are certainly bearing fruit.

Higher Gear

Over the past few years, Westfield residents have been able to see some long-percolating developments blossom, most notably the $6.6 million Olver Transit Pavilion, which opened in April as the centerpiece of a planned downtown resurgence. The Westfield Redevelopment Authority also recently demolished a former bowling alley near the transit center, with plans to create a multi-story, mixed-use building with retail, restaurants, office space, and market-rate apartments.

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

The transit center was designed to both catalyze related economic development and increase the use of public transportation. The state-of-the-art center includes parking space for four buses with bicycle racks, as well as a bicycle-repair station, which speaks to the proximity of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail only a block away.

The trail, which spans three and a half miles and crosses seven bridges in the city, isn’t yet complete, Phelon said, but will eventually be yet another destination drawing people to the Whip City.

Mayor Brian Sullivan, Kate Phelon, and Dan Howard

Mayor Brian Sullivan, Kate Phelon, and Dan Howard say collaborations between Westfield’s municipal leaders, businesses, and schools have reaped benefits for the city.

“In a few years, it will be an economic engine in the city,” she told BusinessWest. “People from will come to this rail trail because it’s elevated and extends all the way down to New Haven. I’m already getting calls about where people can park overnight and bike down to Connecticut.”

Economic development has taken other forms as well. Westfield opened a $6 million solar farm on Russell Road last year, featuring 8,864 solar panels capable of producing 3 megawatts of power that will be consumed by the community. Meanwhile, the city continues to develop a second industrial park on city-owned land adjacent to Barnes Regional Airport.

Sullivan said Westfield already offers a number of advantages to businesses considering locating there, from plenty of available land to easy access to Interstates 90 and 91, rail service, and Barnes, to a permitting system that gets all players, from planners to the DPW to the WG+E, into the same room to ease the path to approval.

“That has been successful. There’s no sense in having a meeting to set up a meeting to talk about another meeting. Here, it’s a one-stop shop.”

But he also takes a regional approach to economic development, maintaining relationships with area mayors and the Economic Development Council of Western Mass. “We’re on the the same page, because we’re only as good as our neighbors are doing.”

And Westfield is doing well, he added, noting that city-wide high-speed Internet is just one more catalyst to transform the Whip City from a warehousing and manufacturing center to a location that’s amenable to businesses of all kinds, large and small.

“We have a tremendous asset in this municipal utility,” Howard said, “but instead of everyone doing their own thing, the mayor and I and Kate get together to promote the synergies we have.”

Local Impact

Chambers of commerce are, by their nature, about economic development and helping their communities grow, Phelon said. The Greater Westfield Chamber continues to do so by way of programs such as a buy-local initiative that encourages businesses in the city to make purchases from other Westfield businesses instead of looking outside the area, or online, for suppliers.

“We worry about the future of retail; no matter what you buy, online shopping is hitting Main Street, USA hard,” she said. “We’re trying to counteract that; we’re asking, ‘why don’t you consider a chamber member? You might find something you didn’t even know was available here.’ We’re excited about this. Instead of going online, maybe spend an extra dollar or two here, and make an impact locally. We really want to push this hard.”

It comes down to communication, Sullivan said, and the various entities that make a community run smoothly — from City Hall to the schools system to the business ecosystem — understanding each other’s needs and challenges.

Even last spring’s Earth Day cleanup of trash on Servistar Industrial Road qualifies, the mayor said, adding that it was a volunteer effort spurred by people getting together to talk about a problem. “It’s simple,” he said, “but if you don’t know about it, you can’t do anything about it.”

In Westfield, though, word gets around. And, thanks to a certain fiber project, it’s about to get around even faster.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Mike Vezzola

Mike Vezzola says Enfield has cultivated a diverse economic landscape, with retail, manufacturing, and warehousing and distribution all playing key roles.

Commuters whisking past Enfield, Conn. on I-91 — especially exits 47E and 48, which drain into the heavily trafficked corridors of Routes 220 and 190, peppered with shopping centers and fast-casual restaurants — no doubt see the stretch as a retail mecca, but a closer look casts doubt.

Take the Enfield Square Mall, for instance, which has been heavily buffeted by store departures and doesn’t draw nearly the traffic it used to.

“From a retail perspective, yes, we lost some of the anchor stores of the mall — Macy’s, Sears — but I know there has been some interest from new stores to go into the mall,” said Mike Vezzola, executive director of the North Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, noting, as one example, a new Party City on the property, one of the biggest among the chain’s New England stores.

“I spoke to the folks at the mall last week, and we’re starting to see the retail aspect rebound a little bit,” he went on. “But it’s definitely more of a mixed bag. Ten years ago, we were looking at Enfield as the retail hub between Springfield and Hartford. I feel that’s shifted to Manchester. Instead, we’re now an all-inclusive package drawing from all aspects of economic development.”

Take, for instance, a strong uptick in small and sole-proprietor businesses coming online in the past year, reflective of an entrepreneurial wave that has been noticeable in Western Mass. as well. Or a wave of warehousing and distribution companies that have set up shop in Enfield over the past year or two.

Enfield Square Mall

Enfield Square Mall

“It’s a combination of a few things,” Vezzola said, noting that the manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution niches have been bolstered by the likes of Veritiv, Plastipak, and Conval all moving into Enfield in the past year. “We’ve also seen a lot of interest from property managers and developers who have been purchasing open lots here in town, with intentions of perhaps bringing more distribution and manufacturing businesses into the area.”

Recognizing an opportunity to create a pipline of local talent for such companies, Asnuntuck Community College unveiled its new, 27,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center in the spring, part of an overall $25 million campus expansion plan. The new space will allow Asnuntuck to double its enrollment in its undergraduate manufacturing-technology programs. Meanwhile, the college is extending its tuition rate for Connecticut residents to students from Massachusetts. All these moves are aimed at bolstering what is becoming a key part of Enfield’s — and, perhaps, the region’s — economy.

Enfield, Conn. at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1683 in Massachusetts; annexed to Connecticut in 1749
Population: 44,654 (2010)
Area: 34.2 square miles
County: Hartford
Residential Tax Rate: $31.43 (plus fire district tax)
Commercial Tax Rate: $31.43 (plus fire district tax)
Median Household Income: $67,402
Median Family Income: $77,554
Type of Government: Town Council, Town Manager
Largest Employers: MassMutual, Retail Brand Alliance, Lego Systems
* Latest information available

“Within the past year, the state has given much support to Asnuntuck to focus on advanced manufacturing and programs that are more of a specific niche in terms of a career path,” Vezzola told BusinessWest. “The expansion of that school has been phenomenal, everything from the infrastructure to the subtleties like offering in-state tuition prices to Massachusetts residents.”

Other developments have local officials equally excited about Enfield’s position, from a planned transit center in the Thompsonville section of town to MGM Springfield’s opening in 2018 and, perhaps, a second casino just to the south in East Windsor.

“If anything, I think Enfield is going to be more appealing over the next five years with the institution of a new commercial rail system and the casinos going up,” Vezzola said. “I can see Enfield really being the middle-ground tourist attraction, the alternative place to stay between those two points of interest.”

All Aboard

As for that railroad, service on a New Haven-to-Springfield line should be up and running in the spring of 2018. Enfield — specifically, its Thompsonville neighborhood on the Connecticut River — is one of the proposed stops along that line, although the station won’t be up and running immediately. Nor will it be built in a vacuum, as the town has been planning a transformation of the future station site into an intermodal transit center in a walker-friendly village.

“It’s a rather large and complicated project,” said Peter Bryanton, the town’s director of Community Development, adding that the sticking point has been a former power-plant site that sits on the river. “That site is owned by Eversource, and we started negotiating with Eversource about five years ago to go on the property and do environmental testing, because we need to know what kind of contaminants are there before we can do anything. We’re now at the point where we have an access agreement with them, and we’re in the process of getting a firm to do the work for us.”

Depending on the results of that survey, if the site needs to be remediated or capped, the transit-center could be looking at a three- to five-year timeline. In the meantime, the state will build a basic rail station, with an elevated, double-tracked platform on each side. Later on, the town will build in some parking, bus facilities, and outdoor recreation, such as walking trails and overlook areas so people can enjoy the view of the river.

“Hopefully the commuter-rail system revives some of the walkability in town,” Vezzola added. “The service will start running in 2018 — we’re the only stop on the Connecticut River itself — and the Thompsonville project will be greatly affected by that once it’s instituted. We really want to take the train station and make a livable, walkable atmosphere, with restaurants and retail shops from the train station all the way up to Town Hall, all the way up Main Street. It all kind of works together.”

There isn’t room for a lot of retail at the site, Bryanton said, but one four-story commercial building, acquired by the Enfield Community Development Corp., will feature some ground-level retail and housing on the upper floors.

“We’ve gone through the conceptual phase, and we’re now in the construction planning phase,” he noted. “The rail-station plans are almost completed — the state is working on that — and with our environmental work, we can move on our construction plans for the infrastructure around the rail station.”

Sure Bet

Vezzola noted that the chamber’s role is to foster economic growth and development in the four towns it represents. “We’re here as a supporter of local commerce and want to be a driving force behind keeping our region an appealing, attractive place to grow your business.”

That’s why he’s cheered by some of the initiatives taking shape in and around Enfield, from workforce-development progress to the future transit center to a pair of casinos, although the East Windsor, while approved by the Connecticut Legislature, isn’t quite a done deal.

“I think Springfield is a sure bet, and that is most certainly going to help tourism in this particular area,” he said. “We have plenty of restaurants in Enfield, the Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn hotels in Enfield will be pretty much occupied, and it’s only going to be bigger if the East Windsor casino comes to fruition as well, because we’re right in the middle. We’re not a 45-minute commute, like coming from Northampton or West Hartford; we’re your driveable destination.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

HOLYOKE — The 95-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Holyoke, which opened its doors on Aug. 9, is scheduled to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 21 at 4 p.m. The hotel is located at 229 Whiting Farms Road, at Ingleside Square, and will operate as a Marriott franchise, owned and managed by Shield Hotels of Northampton.

Ingleside Square is a ground-up redevelopment featuring such restaurants as Applebee’s, Chipotle, and McDonald’s, as well as retail stores. Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce executives and local legislators are expected to attend, and the public is invited.

Located 25 miles from Bradley International Airport, the Fairfield Inn & Suites Springfield/Holyoke at Ingleside Square is close to family attractions such as the Basketball Hall of Fame, Six Flags, Yankee Candle, the Volleyball Hall of Fame, and starting next year, MGM Springfield.

Hotel amenities include an indoor swimming pool, a 24/7 fitness center, valet laundry service, complimentary wi-fi, as well as fax and copy services. The hotel also offers 450 square feet of space to accommodate functions of up to 50 people.

“Delivering both function and comfort, our new design and décor elevate the Fairfield brand, setting a new standard in the moderate tier category,” said Callette Nielsen, gthe chain’s vice president and global brand manager. “At Fairfield Inn & Suites, we provide an easy, positive, and productive travel experience, as well as the promise of consistent and reliable service at an exceptional value. The Fairfield Inn & Suites Springfield/Holyoke at Ingleside Square is a truly stunning example of the brand’s contemporary look and feel, and we are pleased to introduce Fairfield Inn & Suites hotels in the Holyoke area.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — As the academic year gets underway, 88 new students from the UMass Amherst College of Nursing’s accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program will begin class at the UMass Center at Springfield (UMCS).

The College of Nursing made the decision to permanently teach the accelerated bachelor’s program in the Tower Square location earlier this year. The 26,000-square-foot space features 10 classrooms and clinical simulation space specifically designed for the needs of the nursing program. State-of-the-art telehealth facilities are being developed and will be ready later this year.

Dean Stephen Cavanagh said there are additional benefits to the location. “The College of Nursing is excited to have our first cohort of accelerated bachelor’s students learning in the UMass Center at Springfield. The downtown Springfield location is accessible for students from all over New England, thanks to its proximity to major highways and the new Union Station. Some of the area’s best hospitals and medical facilities are also just minutes away, making it convenient for our students to complete their clinical studies. We feel this is a great opportunity for both the College of Nursing and the UMass Center at Springfield.”

The partnership between the Springfield Center and the College of Nursing dates back several years and has been mutually beneficial.

“Since we opened our doors in September 2014, the College of Nursing has been a significant academic partner providing a valuable resource for training the healthcare workforce in the Pioneer Valley,” said Daniel Montagna, UMCS director of Operations. “Moving the program to Springfield benefits area businesses, including restaurants and retail shops within Tower Square and throughout downtown. We are elated to be the new home of the accelerated bachelor’s program and to have the university expand its footprint at the center and in this region.”

The 17-month accelerated program is designed for students with bachelor’s degrees in other subjects or for persons interested in a career change, and is taught by College of Nursing faculty. The number of students taking classes in the Springfield Center will double next year when a new cohort begins. Students beginning the accelerated bachelor of science in nursing option now will earn a UMass Amherst degree in December 2018.

Daily News

FLORENCE — Tracy Roth, who launched the Hub Studio, a fitness studio located at the Nonotuck Mill in Florence, will host a grand opening at the studio on Saturday, Sept. 30 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The studio will offer spinning, TRX resistance training, mat Pilates, scientifically backed nutrition-coaching programs, outdoor cycling instruction, workshops, special events, and more.

“The Hub believes it’s our clients’ birthright to feel powerful and complete in their bodies,” Roth said, “and that our true potential, physical and mental, lies within our core — our ‘hub’ — and when you find a way to tap into that core, you access limitless power.”

The grand opening will include refreshments and snacks from local cafés and restaurants, live music from kid-friendly DJ Quintessential, free chair massage, a raffle, and more. The raffle prizes include classes and a three-month membership at the Hub Studio, as well as other exclusive items from area businesses. The event is free, and the public is welcome. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz will attend to assist with the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Located in Suite 202 at the Nonotuck Mill, 296-C Nonotuck St., Florence, the studio will be open full-time starting Monday, Oct. 2 and will include group fitness classes for all levels during the morning, afternoon, and evening hours. The studio will also have classes, workshops, and special events on Saturdays and Sundays. For class descriptions, schedule, a blog, and more, visit www.yourhubstudio.com.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

By Alta J. Stark

Colleen Henry says Lee has always had a great location, but as a community, it has also been very innovative.

Colleen Henry says Lee has always had a great location, but as a community, it has also been very innovative.

Ask a Lee business leader or owner what the key to their success is, and you’ll hear one resounding answer: “location, location, location.”

Lee’s prime location at Massachusetts Turnpike exit 2 has afforded the town some of the best economic opportunities in Berkshire County. “It’s ideal in that regard,” said Jonathan Butler, the president and CEO of 1Berkshire.

“Lee has always had a solid amount of traffic through its downtown because of its proximity to the Pike, and having Route 20 run right through its downtown, but the community doesn’t rest on location alone,” he told BusinessWest. “They’ve done a lot of work to make the town a destination, not just a spot people pass through.”

The community has undergone quite an impressive downtown revitalization over the past decade, following a series of economic transitions in the ’80s and ’90s, as large employers, including a series of paper mills, closed. The most recent such closure was Schweitzer-Mauduit International in 2008, which led to the loss of several hundred jobs in the community. Butler says the town got back on its feet by “forging a partnership between its town government and its community development corporation. They did a lot of good work in the 2000s, focusing on redevelopment projects of a few key downtown properties. They also did a big facelift for the downtown, making it look much more inviting for all the traffic that comes through.”

“People have worked really hard to make Lee beautiful and livable,” said Colleen Henry, executive director of the Lee Chamber of Commerce. “We’re very innovative in Lee, and always have been.”

In fact, town founders were so savvy, they redirected the location of the Housatonic River. Lee was founded in the 1700s when the river flowed down the town’s current Main Street. Henry says the area flooded often because it was on a downhill, so the river was redirected to expand to the riverbank and enable downtown to flourish.

Today, there’s a lot of diversity to Lee’s economy, including high-quality manufacturing jobs, farms, quality eateries and resorts, eclectic stores, coffee shops, and iconic retailers.

This mix has created an intriguing business story, one that is continuously adding new chapters. For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest turns some of those pages.

What’s in Store

The largest employer in Lee is the Lee Premium Outlets, which, during the tourist season, employs about 750 people in its 60 outlet stores. Carolyn Edwards, general manager of the complex, said the facility recognizes the important role it plays in driving the local economy.

“We tend to advertise out of market to draw tourists and shoppers to the region. Our customer base is driven by cultural attractions such as Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, and Shakespeare & Company,” said Edwards. “But once they’re here, they make a day, sometimes a week of it, and we’re always giving recommendations for ‘what’s a great restaurant to eat at?’ or ‘can you recommend a great hotel to stay at tonight?’ If it’s a rainy day, they ask, ‘what can I do with the kids?’

“We try to stay in tune with what’s going on in the community,” she went on. “And I think it’s a good relationship where we offer something for folks who are here, and then we’re driving business elsewhere as well.”

Edwards said the outlets average about 2 million visitors a year, with shoppers coming from local markets, as well as regional and international locations.

Lee Premium Outlets has become a destination within a destination community.

Lee Premium Outlets has become a destination within a destination community.

“I love meeting the customers,” she said. “I’m always amazed at people who show up from far and away. In the summer, we have a lot of foreign camp counselors who come here to ramp up their wardrobes before going back to the UK, France, and Spain. It’s fun to see them buy things that they’re excited to bring back and show their families. We always look forward to their return.”

Edwards said they come for brand names like Michael Kors, Coach, and Calvin Klein, and they return each year to see what’s new. “We always want to deliver a new experience when someone comes. We’re different from maybe your local mall in that respect because we’re kind of a destination. Shoppers look forward to coming, they plan on coming, and when they do, that’s always the first question: ‘what’s new?’”

Down the road a piece is the headquarters and distribution center of another iconic retailer, Country Curtains. Colleen Henry said its annual sale at the Rink is a big draw. “When they have their sales, they put up a sign. People stop their cars and get out. Once they do that, and walk around Lee and see all that we have to offer, then we all benefit.”

Trade, transportation, and utilities lead the list of employment by industry in Lee, followed by leisure and hospitality, and education and health services. Manufacturing is number four on the list, and while many of the paper mills have closed, the sector is still holding strong, making up more than 7% of the workforce in the Berkshires, and representing some of the highest wages in the region. In Lee, in particular, there are three high-tech companies along the Route 102 corridor that are providing some of the highest wages in the region.

Onyx Specialty Papers is the town’s third-largest employer with more than 150 employees. Butler said it’s a remnant of some of the larger mill closings in the 2000s that was bought by local shareholders with a vision. “It’s now locally run and owned, and they’ve innovated their technology to produce very unique, technically exacting papers. Their products are distributed across the globe.”

Down the road there’s Berkshire Sterile Manufacturing, a manufacturer to the pharmaceutical industry, a relatively new employer that found its way to Lee with the help of a strong regional partnership.

“We not only helped them find space, we also worked with our local community college to do some specific training for their workforce needs,” said Butler.

SEE: Lee at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1777
Population: 5,878
Area: 27 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $14.72
Commercial Tax Rate: $14.72
Median Household Income: $58,790
Median Family Income: $71,452
Type of government: Representative Town Meeting
Largest employers: Lee Premium Outlets; Country Curtains; Onyx Specialty Papers; the Village at Laurel Lake; Oak ‘n Spruce Resort; Big Y
* Latest information available

A third high-end employer providing quality jobs is Boyd Technologies, another company that’s been successful in transitioning from one generation of ownership to the next. Butler said he’s encouraged by these companies because “they’re doing a great job of innovating and diversifying what they’re doing. The economy’s evolving, and they’re evolving with it.”

Henry said she’s working to bring in more high-tech companies. “We have the space for it; we have more open land than a few others of the towns in the Berkshires, so we have the room to grow and expand.”

Henry is also excited by a huge project that’s been on the horizon for several years now, the redevelopment of the Eagle Mill. It’s one of those old Schweitzer-Mauduit mills off North Main Street that has been closed for several years.

Renaissance Mill LLC is working to transform the space into a mix of different economic uses that could help expand downtown offerings, adding everything from lodging to additional eateries and attractions.

“Projects like the Eagle Mill give Lee the opportunity to continue to become a bigger and bigger part of the Berkshire visitor economy, and it’s also a space that eventually will be able to attract next-generation families with a variety of different affordable-housing options,” said Butler. “Presently, Lee boasts relatively reasonable real-estate prices from both the rental and buyer’s market perspective. Adding additional affordable housing will position the town to be very competitive.”

Character Building

Of course, the heart and soul of the town is its quintessential New England charm. Lee has maintained its small-town character through decades of growth and change.

“That’s what we’re all about, and what we would like to be known for even more,” said Henry. “We benefit from the location because we’re at the entrance to a great tourist destination, but we also benefit from the location because it’s beautiful on its own.”

Butler agreed, noting that “Lee is one of those Berkshire communities that’s really bounced back in the past 15 years in terms of its downtown being filled up with great coffee shops, cool bars and restaurants, and an interesting mix of quality stores. It really has a destination feel to it for visitors to the Berkshires, but it’s also the type of downtown that’s really prominent for residents who live in the community.”

Joe’s Diner has been serving the community for more than 60 years, literally and figuratively. Customers far and wide know the diner as the backdrop of one of Norman Rockwell’s most well-known works, “The Runaway,” featuring a state trooper and a young boy sitting on stools in the diner.

The Sept. 20, 1958 Saturday Evening Post cover hangs proudly in the diner, next to a photo of the neighbors Rockwell recruited to model for him, state trooper Richard Clemens and Eddie Locke. Longtime staffers are used to the attention, and don’t miss a beat filling coffee cups while they help make memories for visitors.

Lee is also home to “the best courtroom in the county,” where its most famous case was that of Arlo Guthrie, whose day in court is remembered in the lyrics to his famous war-protest song, “Alice’s Restaurant.”

But there are other hidden gems that Henry invites people to discover, like the Animagic Museum on Main Street, where visitors can learn about the many local animators who made movie magic in films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings. One of the town’s quirkiest claims to fame is on property that was once the Highfield Farm. “Monument to a Cow” is a marble statue of a cow named Highfield Colantha Mooie, who in her 18 years produced 205,928 pounds of milk.

Henry says it’s the diversity of business and industry that drives Lee’s economy.

“You can get everything you need in Lee. You don’t have to go somewhere else,” she said. “And you can buy from people who you know, people you see in church and in the grocery store and at basketball games. Supporting the community is really important, and people really do that in Lee. Residents understand that supporting the local economy is really important to our survival.”

Edwards said Lee is unique because of its thriving downtown.

“It’s alive, and it’s beautiful. You turn onto Main Street and see flowers everywhere,” she said. “It’s well-kept, and there are locally owned businesses there and restaurants that are very unique and not necessarily chain restaurants, so there is the best of both worlds in Lee.”

On Location

Henry says she’s proud to be part of Lee’s success story and recognizes it’s just part of the bigger Berkshire picture.

“We’re a work in progress, part of a bigger whole that’s more than just individual town thinking,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re tied into this together in a lot of ways.”

Butler agreed, and said the region has a good handle on the future. “We know what the challenges are, and we have a growing understanding of where the opportunities are,” he explained. “Lee is a great microcosm of the Berkshires in that it went through the same economic transitions that the majority of our communities went through in the ’70s into the ’90s and early 2000s, but Lee bounced back.

“It’s found its place in the visitor economy,” he went on. “It’s found its place in having employers that are evolving and doing cutting-edge things, and it’s attracting families. It’s a really great example of the potential for all our Berkshire communities.”

Employment Sections

Hire Power

Wanda Gispert, regional vice president of Talent & Workforce Development for MGM Resorts International.

Wanda Gispert, regional vice president of Talent & Workforce Development for MGM Resorts International.

The final countdown has begun at MGM Springfield; the $950 million casino will be open for business in just over a year. That means roughly 3,000 people must be hired between now and then, a massive task that falls to a team that has already been hard at work for months.

126,000.

That’s the number of applications that Wanda Gispert is expecting for the 3,000 or so positions that MGM Springfield must fill between now and opening night roughly a year from now — actually, well before opening night.

Doing the quick math, Gispert, who takes the title of regional vice president of Talent and Workforce Development for MGM Resorts International, acknowledges that this number equates to just over 40 applicants per job.

That might be the average, but the number of applicants will vary wildly with the position, she told BusinessWest, adding that, for top-level positions, like vice president of table games, there might be hundreds of candidates.

And then, for some positions, 40 applicants for each posting would be a blessing, but certainly not a reality.

“Being a butcher is a lost art — a lot of people don’t have that specific skill,” she said, adding that the casino will need a handful of such individuals. The same is true of pastry chefs and security personnel specifically trained to work with canines.

Filling the hundreds of different kinds of positions needed to operate MGM’s $959 million casino in Springfield’s South End is now Gispert’s responsibility. Actually, she leads a team of people that will handle this assignment, one she is still building.

As she goes about her work, she will draw on years of experience with meeting the considerable workforce challenges of major corporations within the broad hospitality sector.

Her specialty is opening new properties, and her résumé includes considerable work within the hotel industry, specifically with Marriott Hilton, opening more than 200 properties within the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, while serving on what is known as the ‘new-opening team.’

She later went to work for MGM Resorts International, and took the lead role in assembling the team of roughly 4,000 for the company’s National Harbor casino, which opened earlier this year.

She will also draw on a host of resources, everything from the area’s community colleges and workforce-related agencies to websites that can tell her which companies are downsizing across the country and, therefore, what types of talented individuals might be looking for work.

Overall, she said assembling a workforce for MGM Springfield will pose some challenges, but nothing out of the ordinary for such assignments.

The region boasts a large, qualified workforce, she noted, and it has the resources in place to train those who will need specific training, such as dealers. Meanwhile, MGM’s name and reputation within the gaming industry will bring a number of experienced workers into this market, giving the new casino ample talent to draw from as its fills out its team.

“With every market that we service, we see challenges in certain areas,” she explained, noting that this region would certainly not boast many experienced casino workers because legalized gaming only came to this state a year ago. “What’s encouraging about this area is that there are professions that easily transfer over to what we need; the banking industry is huge here, for example. From a cage-operations standpoint and how you run a casino behind the scenes — meaning accounting, finance, human resources, and other areas — we have a lot of positions there, but we know skills will transfer over.”

For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest talked at length with Gispert about the hiring process for MGM Springfield and how things will unfold over the next year.

Surveying the Situation

As she assessed the challenge of staffing up at MGM Springfield, Gispert made a number of observations.

Among them is the fact this is a good time to be in a culinary-arts program, and for fairly obvious reasons made clear by her reference to pastry chefs and how hard it will be to find them. It’s also a good time to be a math teacher or a retired math teacher, for less-obvious reasons she would explain. And it’s a good time to be a bank teller, especially one who might be downsized in this time when there is need for fewer of those professionals.

As for math teachers and those who have retired from that profession, Gispert said they are the perfect sorts for the behind-the-scenes positions in surveillance.

“Those jobs are very different from security positions,” she explained. “Everyone in surveillance is given a math test; they have to understand all the games — poker, blackjack, craps, everything that we offer — and they need to be able to do math in their head very well, because if I’m watching a play, how do I know if an odd is being paid out properly?

“They catch mistakes; they catch possible cheating,” she went on. “They’re the eyes and ears of the casino. They must be really sharp, and their facial-recognition skills must be really strong.”

Loss-prevention specialists for major retailers would obviously be good candidates for such positions, she continued, but those math teachers and former math teachers are also ideal.

And teachers, in general, are good candidates for jobs through the casino, and for many reasons.

“They’re off every night, they’re off every weekend, they’re off for Christmas,” she said while listing some. “We love school teachers; many of our employers teach school because they have the perfect schedule.”

As noted, Gispert can talk about filling such positions from experience — lots of it.

A graduate of Georgia State’s respected hospitality program (the school is located in Atlanta, a popular site for conventions), she said she started her career on the front desk of a Holiday Inn at age 18 and has worked in a host of different positions within the hotel sector.

“I think that’s what’s given me my edge,” she told BusinessWest. “I’ve worked all of those jobs — I’ve washed dishes, I’ve made beds, I’ve worked in sales. You’re a jack of all trades at that point, and when you’re recruiting for those positions or training for them, you know what to look for, and you know how to train better because you’ve been in that position.”

Jason Randall

Jason Randall says the process of onboarding MGM employees is well underway.

As noted, she’s taken all that experience in hotels and added casino staffing to her résumé, assignments that are similar to hotels but have some additional wrinkles, such as host-community agreements, which stipulate commitments that the casino will make to hiring people from the specific host community and region surrounding it.

With MGM Springfield, that commitment is to have more than one-third (35%) of the workforce be comprised of people living in Springfield or from Springfield.

That last consideration is a very important one, said Gispert, adding that one of the things Springfield officials hoped to do by luring a casino here was to bring back some of those young people (with ‘young’ being a relative term) who decided they needed to go elsewhere to find fulfillment of their career aspirations.

That commitment to designate a third of the jobs to those with Springfield roots, as well as other commitments (to hire veterans, for example) is essentially a starting point for this assignment, said Gispert.

“That’s how I start crafting how I will approach my workforce-development game plan for the area,” she explained, adding that 90% of the workforce must come from this region, which is defined loosely as Greater Springfield.

Counting Down

Running down some of the numbers involved with her assignment (there are always lots of numbers to consider when talking about a casino), Gispert said the largest specific team, or department, will be dealers; roughly 600 of them will be needed for blackjack, poker, and other games. A large security force will also be needed, she went on, noting that roughly 200 individuals will be required for such work.

There will be a number of restaurants and catering operations, so about 150 culinary artists will be required, she said, adding that there are subsets within that broad realm (pastry chef, for example), and there will be about 80 cashier, or ‘cage,’ positions, as they’re called; these are people who will be handling money.

There are also a number of positions for which the casino will need just a few talented individuals, or perhaps even one. Butcher falls in that category, as does locksmith, security people that can work with dogs, and ‘master tailor’ (there will likely be just one of those).

When asked about the schedule moving forward when it comes to the process of putting a team in place, Gispert said the hiring has already begun in many areas, especially within the higher levels of management, meaning those who will lead the teams that will be assembled.

The matter of when specific positions will be filled will be determined by several factors, she went on, but especially how much training is involved and, obviously, when the employees in question will be needed.

As an example, she noted security personnel. This will be a large force, as noted, and one that will need extensive training. Also, in many cases, individuals will be needed long before the doors to the casino actually open.

“January is the month when a lot of positions will come on board,” she explained. “Because security and surveillance come in first; they take the longest to train, and you need them on the premises earlier than anyone else.

“Once equipment starts to be delivered, surveillance has to be there from that point on,” she went on. “Once slot machines and other equipment start to arrive, it cannot be left unsupervised; it’s 24 hours a day once they’re on the premises.”

And bringing someone onboard, if you will, is a lengthy process, said Jason Randall, who just went through it himself while being hired as director of Talent Acquisition & Development.

A veteran of the tourism industry in the human resources realm — he was a member of BusinessWest’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2014 as director of Human Resources for Peter Pan Bus Lines — he joined MGM in May. He said one of his primary responsibilities is taking new hires “from A to Z,” as he put it.

“Soon, we’ll start building out our human-resources team to start managing that on a volume scale,” he explained. “We’ll have a team that will take over halfway through the process to help initiate drug and background checks, complete offer letters, assisting with gaming-license processing, and eventually queueing everyone up for the big orientation dates.”

Those will be coming after some large hiring events late next spring and into the summer, he went on, leaving ample time for training before the casino opens.

As jobs need to be filled, the positions are posted on LinkedIn and job boards, said Gispert, adding that the response has thus far been solid, and it points toward overall numbers similar to what was experienced with National Harbor — thus that projection for 126,000 applications.

People can apply for as many as three jobs, and many do, she explained, which will be a factor in how many applications MGM receives, but overall, she’s expecting a very strong response, and from people of all ages.

“We reach out to AARP,” Gispert explained, “because a lot of people thought they wanted to be retired, then they retired and they decided, ‘no, I really want something back in the workforce.’”

Odds Are

As she talked about the process of creating a workforce for MGM Springfield, Gispert noted one challenge that might not be apparent to all.

“Not everyone will want to work for us,” she said with laugh, “because if you work for us, you can’t gamble here. Some people would rather be a customer than an employee.”

Perhaps, but she’s quite confident that this obstacle can be overcome as she goes about hiring dealers, security personnel, and even butchers and pastry chefs.

A year from now, roughly 3,000 people will be wearing ‘MGM Springfield’ nametags as part of the work attire. Getting to that point will be a challenge, but the casino and its workforce will be ready, she said.

You can bet on it.

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

Autos Cover Story Sections

Awaiting the ‘Autohaus’

Michelle and Peter Wirth

Michelle and Peter Wirth

Michelle Wirth started her career with Mercedes-Benz as a mechanical engineer. Early on, after only a few visits to Stuttgart, Germany, where the cars are designed and manufactured, she learned that the company doesn’t build to industry standards — it creates an environment where engineers can design to their own, higher standards. These are lessons she and her husband, Peter, apply to their life and how they do business, especially with their new venture, Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, set to open next month.

Peter Wirth doesn’t know exactly how long it’s been since Mercedes Benz has had a presence in Western Mass. with a dealership.

He does know that it’s been … well, long enough.

As in, long enough that he knows he and his wife, Michelle, and fellow partner Rich Hesse have a lot of work to do in many different realms as they prepare to open Mercedes-Benz of Springfield on the site of the old Plantation Inn across from Mass. Turnpike exit 6 in Chicopee.

For starters, the partners in this nearly $12 million enterprise have to let people know that Mercedes is, indeed, back in the 413 more than a decade after a small dealership on Riverdale Street, this region’s auto mile, if you will, closed its doors, leaving area consumers to travel to Hartford or just east of Worcester to do business.

And they intend to get that job done in a number of ways, from intensive, targeted marketing to a grand-opening celebration (date to be determined), to some work within the community even before the doors open, to show that they are not just here to sell cars (more on that later).

But there is other work to do, and most of it falls in the category of showing just how much Mercedes-Benz — the company, the cars, and the brand — have all changed since the last time someone had the opportunity to buy or lease a new one in Western Mass.

“What I recognized is that we have to — and we love to — reacquaint people in our area of influence with the Mercedes-Benz brand; a lot has changed in 10 years,” said Michelle Wirth, who will oversee marketing efforts and other duties for the company, but started her career with Mercedes as a mechanical engineer. “There are something like 3,000 to 4,000 Mercedes cars in Western Massachusetts currently in operation. I don’t have exact figures, but I’m sure most of them are older, because people haven’t made the trek to Hartford or Shrewsbury or Albany pick up a new car.

“We want to make sure that those folks who are already convinced about the brand know we exist, and then reacquaint them with the new cars,” she went on. “The vehicles themselves have just transformed in the past 10 years.”

An architect’s rendering of the new Mercedes dealership

An architect’s rendering of the new Mercedes dealership, which will emphasize transparency.

By that, she was referring to everything from the number of models to the depth of the price range. For example, she pointed to the CLA, a Mercedes model that retails for under $33,000, a number that would likely surprise many people, including some who know cars — and Mercedes.

Other things that have changed since Mercedes models were last sold in this region include the carmaker’s focus on safety, and not merely luxury and style (although those are still points of emphasis, to be sure), as well as the dealerships in which the cars are sold and, especially, serviced.

Indeed, dealerships today are well-appointed, convenience-focused, customer-friendly facilities that exist not so much to showcase cars, although they still do that, certainly, but pamper those who buy them.

So much so that Michelle Wirth, as she described the process of designing, outfitting, and operating the facility in Chicopee, said the mindset is that she and her husband are not competing with other dealerships, necessarily, but against hotels, restaurants, and even the new $950 million MGM Springfield casino due to open in about a year, in the manner in which they are all focused on hospitality and taking care of the customer.

“When they walk away from a fine hotel establishment, people say ‘man, they did everything right’ — it’s just a feeling they have,” she explained. “When they walk away, they’re going to feel it, they’re going to feel, ‘wow, they care about me, and they took care of me. That’s the feeling we’re going to create.”

For this issue and its focus on auto sales, BusinessWest visited the dealership a few weeks before its doors are due to officially open to gain some insight into what the partners in this venture are anticipating as Mercedes makes its much anticipated return to the area.

A Major Coup

By now, most in the region’s business community are at least somewhat familiar with the story behind Mercedes-Benz of Springfield.

Back in late 2014, Peter Wirth and Hesse, owners of a Mercedes dealership in Nanuet, N.Y., were approached by the carmaker about bringing the brand back to Western Mass. with a dealership after that aforementioned lengthy absence, and after some extensive research, the two concluded that this region was, indeed, underserved, and that a facility here had considerable potential.

Especially at the site they eventually chose, two turnpike exits east of Riverdale Street, at the old Plantation Inn site. This location is literally across the street from where the tollbooth once stood, and at the eastern end of Route 291, giving the location great accessibility.

And it will be needed, because this dealership will have a huge coverage area, one that includes parts of four states: Western Mass., Northern Conn., Southern Vermont, and Southern New Hampshire.

That large swath of territory will bring some challenges, said the Wirths as they talked about their business venture — especially the large number of markets they must advertise in — but also a great deal of opportunity to better serve thousands of Mercedes customers.

“It’s a big area, and it’s a big task,” said Peter. “But it’s a huge opportunity for people in the Springfield metro area, who have to drive 45 minutes to Hartford, or almost an hour to Shrewsbury, the next-closest dealership, or an hour and a half to Albany.”

More than three years after those initial talks between Mercedes, Wirth, and Hesse began, the Western Mass. Mercedes dealership, or ‘autohaus,’ as such facilities are called in Germany, is nearly ready for prime time.

When BusinessWest toured the site in mid-August, the exterior of the dealership had been completed, and work was continuing inside. The projected opening date will be late September.

Like most of the dealerships being built, many of them replacing facilities 30 or 40 years old, this one will be spacious, well-appointed, modern-looking, and heavy on glass and metal.

There is a corporate identity and design standards for these dealerships, and they make them easily recognizable as Mercedes-Benz dealerships. There are certain kinds of columns, tiles, paint colors, and furniture that are pretty standard across the dealer network. But at the same time, we, together with Mercedes-Benz, worked on laying out the dealership in the way we know it’s going to work.”

And while the Mercedes corporation has a desired look and feel in mind that its dealers must create, there is plenty of room to personalize one’s autohaus, said Peter, citing, as just one example, the dealership’s car wash; Mercedes doesn’t require one, but the partners considered it a key part of the “experience.”

“There is a corporate identity and design standards for these dealerships, and they make them easily recognizable as Mercedes-Benz dealerships,” he explained. “There are certain kinds of columns, tiles, paint colors, and furniture that are pretty standard across the dealer network. But at the same time, we, together with Mercedes-Benz, worked on laying out the dealership in the way we know it’s going to work.

“That’s something that has now become specific to this site,” he went on. “Mercedes-Benz has ideas, but they will also take our input, and we’ve been very vocal in that process and made it our own. While we’ve been using their design cues, the feel and flow of the dealership is what we know works and will serve our customers best.”

Asked to elaborate, he said this dealership isn’t just open, it’s incredibly open.

Wirth said his office has four glass walls, and from it, he can see the front desk, the sales office, the lounge, and the service drive. In many ways, that office embodies the intended feeling of openness, ease of transition from one department another, and a word that’s becoming ever more prominent in business and politics today — transparency.

“It’s easy for customers to not just find their way around, but to transition from one department to another — we’re not compartmentalized,” he explained. “We don’t think of a dealership as a sales, service, and parts department; it’s one unit to us.”

Driving Force

As she talked about the new dealership, plans for it, and the level of service she and her partners plan to create, Michelle Wirth thought this was the time to discuss her career with Mercedes-Benz, which began soon after she graduated from Lehigh University with a mechanical engineering degree.

Peter and Michelle Wirth say much has changed in the decade since Mercedes had a presence in the area

Peter and Michelle Wirth say much has changed in the decade since Mercedes had a presence in the area, and they intend to reacquaint the region with the brand.

“I got hired right out of school and worked in environmental and safety engineering,” she told BusinessWest. “I went to Germany a number of times a year, and actually got to go to the design center in Stuttgart, where they design and build these vehicles. I got to learn — I didn’t know this when I walked in the door — that Mercedes doesn’t just build to standards. They rise above those standards, and they have a holistic approach to safety and a holistic approach to design.

“It’s more about ‘what’s the best solution for the customer,’ and that’s impressive,” she went on, “because it creates a space where engineers get to design to the best possible standard, not just the least common denominator. And that translated over to me. As a young person, eyes wide open, I learned a lot from that. It’s like a standard you set for yourself, and it’s the highest one around.”

This attitude, or mindset, permeates everything the couple does in life and in business, Michelle explained, adding that it shapes everything from how they’ll do in business in Chicopee to how they’re already getting involved in the community that will soon be home — to them and their business.

That involvement has taken the form of support for organizations ranging from Square One to Baystate Children’s Hospital, said Peter, adding that these endeavors are part of a culture the company wants to instill. In other words, rather than doing something that might be expected, such as simply meeting auto industry design and performance standards, they’re setting the bar much higher.

“It’s not just checking a box for us,” he explained. “If you can be involved with the children’s hospital, and you have four healthy children; that comes naturally to us. Yes, you’re getting your name out, but it’s also a natural contact point for us; we can help and do good at the same time.”

Meanwhile, back in the realm of car sales, the Wirths believe they have the right brand at the right time to go along with the right location and the right culture.

Indeed, while some luxury brands have struggled with making all-important connections with younger audiences, Mercedes has made inroads, if you will, by creating lower price points and getting younger people into its vehicles.

And once that happens, they often become customers for life, said Michelle, noting that Mercedes not only has one of the highest loyalty rates in the business, but one of the highest conquest rates (winning over the drivers of other brands) as well.

At the same time, the company has adjusted its marketing messages, said Michelle, to appeal not only to the young, but to those who want to think, act, and, yes, drive like the young.

“Now, the marketing focus is more on ‘young at heart,’” she explained. “That’s how we describe people; it’s ‘do you have that Millennial mindset? You may not be that age, but you have that mindset. By doing that, you broaden the audience that you’re speaking to.”

Getting in Gear

Given the huge geographic area it will be serving, Mercedes-Benz of Springfield will already be speaking to a very broad audience.

The initial message will be that Mercedes is back in Western Mass. after a decade’s hiatus. But soon — in fact, almost immediately — there will be much more to communicate: that Mercedes is back, and that this is a brand for both the young and the young at heart.

Also to be communicated, especially through a visit to the new dealership, is that this venture fully embraces that corporate culture of not merely meeting standards, but setting higher ones.

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