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SPRINGFIELD — American International College (AIC) Professor of Criminal Justice Jill McCarthy Payne has been appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker to a two-year term on the Gaming Policy Advisory Committee, a subcommittee of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The committee advises the Gaming Commission on matters including annual resource agenda, public safety, addiction as it relates to gambling, mitigation, and other issues. Along with Payne, committee members include two senators, two legislators, representatives from public health and labor, and Gaming Commission Chair Stephen Crosby.

Payne, who resides in Springfield and represents Region B as a Springfield member, was selected by Baker because of her previous involvement with the casino project in Springfield. Appointed by Mayor Domenic Sarno, Payne served on his five-member committee that helped select MGM as the casino of choice for Springfield. In addition, and prior to her recent appointment by the governor, Payne was tapped to be a member and chair of the local Community Mitigation Committee, thereby serving dual roles at the state and local level.

“I’m excited to be part of this opportunity for Springfield. Although streets are narrowed currently due to construction, upon its completion, the casino will bring a new vibrancy to downtown,” Payne said. “The MGM project itself is unique in the gaming industry because it is considered an ‘inside-out’ model, meaning that patrons will be able to visit all amenities, including restaurants and entertainment venues, without ever entering the casino itself. In addition, the casino is being built within an urban area, using the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, and CityStage, to become part of the fabric of the community. It is really a first of its kind.”

While initial meetings have already begun in Boston, the work of the Gaming Policy Advisory Committee will begin in earnest once all facilities are open.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight: Southwick

Karl Stinehart and Russell Fox

Karl Stinehart and Russell Fox say the new Rite Aid pharmacy on College Highway is one of many businesses that have made major investments in Southwick.

Sixteen years ago, Freda Brown inherited 120 acres of forestland in Southwick that her parents had purchased generations before.

“It’s a beautiful area that borders my backyard, and I wanted to preserve the open space and find something to do with it that was sustainable and that my children could inherit,” she told BusinessWest. “The last thing I wanted was to see it turned into a development.”

She came up with a viable option several years ago when she met Christopher Barden and Drew Gardner at an event in Southwick and they suggested turning it into a disc golf course, which, as the name suggests, is a facility in some ways similar to a golf track, where players throw flying discs at a series of laid-out targets.

They had developed other courses in the past, and today the three have become partners, with New England Disc Golf Center under construction and set to open on Brown’s land next spring with 18 holes that include tees for beginners and experts.

“It’s something affordable that the whole family can enjoy together,” Brown said, adding that plans are in place to add a nine-hole children’s course. “Southwick is a small, friendly town and a great place to live, and a disc golf course will enhance the recreational opportunities here.”

Russell Fox, chair of the town’s Board of Selectmen, says the disc-golf facility is just one of many ways in which the community has put recreation to use as an economic-development engine. Other examples include everything from four actual golf courses to the hugely popular Congamond Lakes, a boating haven for decades.

Overall, Southwick is resilient, and its property values have remained stable or increased during time periods when other towns saw a decline or were stagnant due to the economy, said Fox, who attributes this to the town’s desirable location; single tax rate; balance between commercial, residential, and open space; an excellent school system; and that wide range of recreational offerings that continues to grow.

“Disc golf has taken off, is fairly inexpensive, and offers a new way for young people to participate in a sport,” he said, adding that, in addition to the golf courses, the town is proud of its 6.5-mile rail trail, which gets more traffic every year as Westfield extends its adjoining rail trail.

Fox told BusinessWest that people travel along the trail from the center of Westfield to sites in Connecticut, and Southwick has some great restaurants accessible from parts of the trail.

“We’re working to improve the sidewalks that connect to it because they provide an entryway into our downtown as well as into smaller commercial areas,” he noted.

Still another major recreational attraction is motocross racing at the Wick, a world-class track built behind the American Legion. Last summer, the national Lucas Oil Pro. Motocross Championship returned there after a two-year absence and signed a new, three year contract.

“Having the nationals here again is a huge economic benefit not only for Southwick, but for the region,” Fox said, explaining that, although it’s a one-day event, it takes months to set up, which benefits local gas stations, eateries, hotels, and motels.

“The race attracts a wide range of fans and different categories of racers from all over the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Japan,” added Karl Stinehart, Southwick’s chief administrative officer.

Major improvements were made to the track and facility before the national race, and the promoter not only worked with the American Motocross Assoc. to meet its requirements, but created a strong social-media following and gained new affiliates. The event was held in July and broadcast live on NBC, and other races have been and will continue to be held there throughout the year.

In addition, Whalley Park has opened on 66 acres of land donated to the town by John Whalley III and Kathy Whalley, in honor of their son John Whalley IV. The new park increased the number of playing fields in Southwick, which is important as they didn’t have enough to accommodate demand.

“We’ve been approached by different organizations that want to rent our athletic fields, and we plan to begin letting outside groups use the facilities, which will help pay for the operating costs, expose people to our community, and add to our entertainment value,” Fox said.

The project is entering phase 2, and a $225,000 contract has been awarded to JL Construction Corp. in Agawam that will be paid for with Community Preservation Act (CPA) money and add lighting to two more fields.

“The townspeople voted to continue the CPA program, which allows us to continue investing in recreational and open-space pursuits,” Stinehart said.

For this edition, BusinessWest looks at the growth taking place in Southwick and other factors that continue to attract and stimulate economic development.

Major Investments

Rite Aid recently staged a grand opening for its new, $2.2 million, 11,000-square-foot building with a drive-thru on College Highway.

“They moved from the center of town and worked with the Mobil station next door to connect their driveways,” Fox said. “Good planning helped the traffic flow and makes it more convenient for customers of both businesses.”

The space that was occupied by Rite Aid filled quickly: it was leased to Dollar Tree, which opened a few weeks ago after a major renovation.

“Businesses have a strong desire to move here; we’re a growing community and get a lot of traffic from Northern Connecticut and the hilltowns via Route 57, as well as from Westfield,” Fox said, adding that the town’s industrial park has done very well.

One building that sat vacant for about a year will soon be occupied by Hudson Holding LLC, which manufactures filters and enclosures for the commercial aerospace market. Stinehart said the company outgrew its space in Connecticut and chose to relocate in Southwick, joining a number of businesses that have moved to the town from out of state as well as the local area.

“Nitor Corporation also expanded and received a special permit to sell guns and ammunition at its location on 5 Whalley Way,” Stinehart noted.

Infrastructure improvements are also underway. The Congamond Road sewer project is being extended to the Gillette Business District, which contains Dunkin’ Donuts, Ocean State Job Lot, and a new Pride station, and the improvements will allow them to grow help attract new ventures.

Residential growth is also occurring in town. High-end homes continue to be built around the Ranch Golf Course, and infrastructure work is underway for a 26-home development called Noble Steed.

“Our excellent school system is one of the reasons people want to live in Southwick,” Fox said, noting that a $69 million project was completed last fall that includes additions and upgrades to Woodland Elementary School, Powder Mill Middle School, and Southwick Regional School, which are all on one campus on Feeding Hills Road.

“The town has positioned itself to keep pace with the modern-day educational needs of youth in Southwick, Granville, and Tolland, which are part of the school district,” Stinehart added.

Town officials are also looking into net-metering credit arrangements with solar facilities to save money. They have an agreement with Nexamp solar farm in Hadley, which went online in October and is expected to result in a 15% savings, but hope to increase that amount.

“We’ve hired a consultant to find additional opportunities for net-metering credits,” Fox said, explaining that the work is being paid for by a $20,000 grant awarded jointly to the town and regional school district by the Mass. Department of Energy Resources.

Ongoing efforts to preserve open space 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.

Fox said the parcel is abutted by two different areas owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the state of Connecticut.

“If we’re able to purchase this parcel, the amount of preserved land here will total 800 acres that will be available for hunting, fishing, and hiking, as well as natural habitats which both states are trying to establish,” he told BusinessWest.

Stinehart added that the area is stocked for bird hunting, and the Congamond Lakes are stocked with fish and rated among the top freshwater fishing sites in the state.

Desirable Location

Stinehart said the town’s location bodes well for further growth, and there is space for new businesses along the front of several parking lots in the Gillette area that would offer great visibility.

In addition, sand and gravel operations in the Hudson Road area, which is zoned industrial, will be forced to close within a few years as they will have removed the maximum amounts allowed, so that land will become available for reuse in the future.

“We feel encouraged by what is happening here. There are many things in our community that help us remain a desirable place to live, work, raise a family, own a business, and enjoy recreational activities,” he said.

With a location 20 minutes from Bradley International Airport, in close proximity to the Mass Pike, and a short drive to Springfield and Hartford, the town is likely to continue its forward progress as officials and department heads who have worked for the town for decades continue to help strike a balance between family farms, open space, small businesses, and its thriving industrial park.

 

Southwick at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 9,563
Area: 31.7 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $17.10
Commercial Tax Rate: $17.10
Median Household Income: $73,555
Family Household Income: $83,314
Type of Government: Open Meeting; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Big Y World Class Markets; Whalley Computer Associates; Southwick Regional School District
*Latest information available

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

 

Mayor Luke Bronin and Jamie Bratt

Mayor Luke Bronin and Jamie Bratt stand in front of the 95-year-old Hartford Times building on Prospect Street that will become the center of University of Connecticut’s new downtown campus.

Jamie Bratt says that when many people think of Hartford, they envision the city as it was decades ago; a bustling metropolis where a lot of people worked and lived.

A sharp decline began in the ’80s, but over the past decade there has been a gradual upswing, and a flood of investments that began several years ago are aimed at restoring it to its former vibrancy.

“It’s a very exciting time for the city,” the director of Economic Development told BusinessWest. “One of the things that makes Hartford attractive is its size. It has an extremely robust arts and cultural scene, great restaurants, and access to the movers and shakers in state government, but it’s a small city that’s easy to get to.”

Mayor Luke Bronin, who took office in January, agrees and says economic development is focused on three main areas downtown: increasing the number of residential living units; adding new transportation options; and growing the number of medical and educational facilities.

The city is making major inroads on all three fronts, but the first is critical to growth, and there has been a concerted partnership between the City of Hartford and the state to increase the number of downtown residences.

“We’ve added 650 units over the past five years and the projects hold a lot of promise,” Bronin said, noting that many of the new apartments are in converted office buildings, the majority have been completed over the past 18 months, and the Capital Regional Development Authority (CRDA) established by Gov. Dannell Malloy to stimulate economic development and new investment in and around Hartford has served as an economic engine by providing gap financing and coordinating a significant number of public-private partnerships.

And although surveys indicated that downtown housing would be difficult to rent out, that prediction has been proven to be inaccurate. “Studies showed we would be lucky if five units a month were leased,” Bratt said. “But developers have been beating performance expectations and have been leasing 10 to 20 units a month.”

She added that the majority of renters come from outside of the city and are Millennials; the average age of people leasing new units is 40, although empty nesters also comprise a fair share of that population.

“Millennials don’t want to have a lot of property or a large house. They like to live in cities and a large number don’t have cars or a driver’s license,” Bratt contined.

Increasing the number of people who live downtown will balance the weekday versus weekend equation, because in recent years there has been a decided difference, as the population on weekends is reduced by 100,000 people.

“We’ve focused on establishing a balanced equilibrium and so far we have been very successful,” Bratt told BusinessWest. “The jobs are here and if residential living follows, retail growth will increase in response to it.”

The CRDA has also been working to expedite what Bronin referred to as a “long and stagnant development effort” on Front Street, which is finally coming into its own as a restaurant and entertainment district.

“It was a wasteland before, but now there’s a collection of retail shops and restaurants across from the Hartford Convention Center. They all involve new construction and have become a strong draw for residents,” Bronin said, explaining that the Front Street neighborhood includes the Marriott Hotel and the Connecticut Science Center, which attract large numbers of visitors as well as business travelers.

There is also a new 121-unit apartment building that was built as part of the second phase of the Front Street District development project that features 15,000 square feet of street-level retail space with five stories of studio and one and two-bedroom apartments priced at market rates.

For this edition, BusinessWest takes an inside look at major changes taking place in downtown Hartford that are expected to promote vibrancy and make the city an attractive place to live, work and play.

Laying the Groundwork

The University of Connecticut (UConn) left the city in 1970 and moved to West Hartford, but it is returning to its former home and creating a large campus downtown.

“It will really add energy and feet on the street,” Bronin said, adding that the university is part of the push to attract more educational facilities to the city because they have been shown to increase growth, diversity, and job options.

Indeed, UConn and city and state leaders have said the 220,000- square-foot downtown campus will transform the area into a thriving neighborhood with 2,300 students and 250 faculty members, especially since food service will be limited, which will make downtown eateries inviting.

The center of the UConn Greater Hartford Campus will be situated in the old Hartford Times building, which is undergoing a $115 million renovation. Its façade is being maintained, but the interior is being entirely renovated, and a three-story atrium and classroom building will be added to the back of the building. The new campus is expected to open sometime in 2017.

Other institutions of higher learning add to the mix. Bronin noted that Trinity College is a long-standing Hartford institution, the University of St. Joseph has its School of Pharmacy in a state-of-the art building downtown, and Capital Community College redeveloped the former G. Fox building 10 years ago.

“It was a huge risk for them, but they were early pioneers in downtown development,” he noted.

News is also taking place on the medical front: Hartford Hospital held a ribbon cutting earlier this month for its new $150 million Bone and Joint Institute downtown. Surgery is expected to begin next month and will help the hospital compete with leaders in bone and joint surgery in New York and Boston.

The new facility will create jobs and draw visitors and other medical professionals to Harford as is expected that the hospital will collaborate with other medical facilities. “Hartford Hospital is a growing major employer and has become a center for many medical subspecialties,” Bronin told BusinessWest. “We’ve worked closely with them on their new building and another one that is under construction on the southern edge of their downtown campus that will house a training center for robotic surgery, which is a program that brings in healthcare professionals from all over the country.”

The third critical pillar of economic development is transportation, and the planned increase in commuter rail service will make a difference, especially to people who choose to live or work downtown. Twenty trains a day are expected to start running in 2018 that will travel between Springfield and New Haven, Conn.

“They will be a major driver of economic growth and the combination of new housing, medical, and educational facilities will really support revitalization of a vibrant city center,” Bronin said, adding that the rail service will extend to New York, and the hope is that Massachusetts will complete the link between Worcester and Springfield.

Additional access to the city may come via the I-84 viaduct that runs over the city. Bronin said the roadway is reaching the end of its useful life and the Connecticut Department of Transportation is planning work that would lower sections and reconnect it to parts of the city.

Hartford also just adopted a Complete Streets policy, and earlier this month was feted as a Bicycle Friendly Community by The League: Bicycle Friendly America.

In addition, 10 streetscape projects are in various stages of development and two are finishing up downtown, that include widening the promenade that borders Bushnell Park.

Varied Ventures

Economic development is also taking place north of the downtown area. Chester Bowles Park public housing complex, which was built after World War II in the city’s Blue Hills neighborhood, is being demolished to make way for a new mixed-use development called Willow Creek. Hundreds of old buildings have been taken down and 62 mixed-income rentals and 29 town houses are being built as the first phase of the project, which will cost about $40 million.

The park is part of a larger, 130-acre complex that includes Westbrook Village, which contains 360 units of public housing on 65 acres that were also built after WWII. The plan is to demolish outdated structures and replace them with a mixed-use development that will include housing, retail, and commercial space.

Bronin said the project is especially significant because Westbrook Village fronts Albany Avenue, which is a main city corridor.

The CRDA has $20 million set aside for neighborhood development in the North End Promise Zone,” he told BusinessWest, explaining that the federal designation gives the area priority in terms of funding because it has been deemed “high need.”

Entrepreneurship in Harford is also poised to grow, thanks to two projects.

Avon residents Bryan Patton and his wife Devra Sisitsky have raised $1.3 million to build the state’s largest Maker Space at the Colt Armory Complex. They hope to attract 400 members and plan to outfit the space with CNC machines, lathes, a sand-blasting booth, a water-jet cutting machine, a metal-fabrication area, design software and monitors, 3D printers and other equipment that could be used by hobbyists and professionals for a monthly fee.

Another space for start-ups known as Innovate Hartford recently opened at 20 Church St. with the goal of bringing in 100 high-tech companies a year to a 27,500-square-foot space in Stilts Building.

Bronin said the former Colt Armory was one of the first factories in the nation and a tremendous amount of repurposing has been done there.

“The city has partnered with the state and private investors to revitalize the residential neighborhood and attract new commercial tenants,” he noted, adding that the National Park Service adopted a large portion of the complex and turned two buildings into a museum that will become part of a national park.

The Capewell Horse Shoe Nail Company building, which is a 10-minute walk from downtown, fell into disrepair about 30 years ago but has also been redeveloped.

“The Corporation for Independent Living purchased it, turned it into apartments and began leasing them a few weeks ago,”Bratt noted, explaining that the building is one of about 15 properties that have been under construction, with the majority being renovated for residential use.

“They include diverse options; some are affordable housing and others are market-rate,” she said. “Hartford is a wonderful choice for anyone interested in an urban lifestyle.”

Ongoing Progress

Officials say attracting Millennials to the city, bolstering transportation options, creating new maker space, and adding new medical and educational facilities will make a real difference in downtown Hartford’s vitality.

“Revitalization all comes down to feet on the street, and that is increasing,” Bratt said. “Progress is a patchwork quilt of individual projects slowly knit together over time and each one of these projects is a patch that will help make the city more beautiful, walkable, and connected.”

 

Hartford at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1784
Population: 125,432 (2014)
Area: 17.95 square miles
County: Hartford
Residential Tax Rate: $74.29 (at 30% of fair market value)
Commercial Tax Rate: $74.29 (at 70% of fair market value)
Median Household Income: $72,275 (2015)
Family Household Income: $91,759 (2015)
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: State of Connecticut, Hartford; United Technologies Corp.; Yale New Haven Health System
* Latest information available

Chamber Corners Departments

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

• Dec. 2: 40th Year Merry Maple Celebrates, 3-6:30 p.m., on the Amherst Town Common. Please come join us during the traditional lighting of the downtown tree on the Amherst Commons. The Amherst Fire Station will have an open house, followed by hay rides from Muddy Brook Farms, crafts in the Amherst Town Hall for children, the Amherst Regional Middle School Chorus will join us on the front steps of the Town Hall and warm the air with holidays songs. All can enjoy the UMass Marching Band followed by the big moment, the tree lighting. Hot apple cider and cider doughnuts will be sold by the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, donated by Atkins Farms Country Market.
Cost: Free and open to the public. There are still sponsorship opportunities available for this event; please contact the Chamber office (413) 253-0700 or e-mail [email protected]

• Dec. 12: Holiday After 5 & AmherstWorks Ribbon Cutting 5 p.m.-7 p.m., at AmherstWorks, 11 Amity St., Amherst. Sponsored by: PeoplesBank and Young Professionals of Amherst. Please join the Amherst Area Chamber and the Young Professionals of Amherst at our annual holiday party sponsored by PeoplesBank. Mid-December is an ideal time of year to see familiar faces, build fresh relationships, and be part of the fun as we welcome new members to the chamber. As a special feature that evening, we’ll also be cutting the ribbon of Amherst’s new co-working space, AmherstWorks. Tours of the facility will be available and everyone will have a chance to win one of our special holiday raffle prizes.
Cost: $10/members, $15/non-members. Register online at www.amherstarea.com or call (413) 253-0700

EAST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE/ERC 5
www.erc5.com
(413) 575-7230

• Dec. 6: ERC5 Holiday Government Party, 5-7 p.m., at Pasquale’s Restaurant and Tavern, 642 North Main St., East Longmeadow. Come one and all for a fun-filled and informative night of networking at Pasquale’s Restaurant & Tavern in East Longmeadow. The ERC5 has invited elected officials and department heads from our five towns. Cost: $25/members, $35/non-members. Register online at www.erc5.com Sponsorships available.

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

• Dec. 16: 34th Annual FCCC Holiday Breakfast & The Recorder “Citizen of the Year” Award, 7:20-9:05 a.m. Hosted by; Deerfield Academy Dining Commons, Albany Road, Deerfield. Come celebrate the holidays with Franklin County Chamber of Commerce members, employees and guests, at a sumptuous breakfast buffet provided by Deerfield Academy. Gary Maynard & Friends will perform seasonal musical entertainment before and during breakfast through the generosity of The Skip Hammond Family.  Cost: $25/members and their employees, $28/non-members. All breakfast reservations must be paid by Dec. 12 unless other arrangements are made with the chamber office. Reserve by Dec. 10; call (413) 773-5463.

• Dec. 1: Workshop: Business Basics, 9-11:15 a.m., at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Conference Room, 395 Main St., Greenfield — Masonic Hall Condominium Building. Learn the whole nine yards of starting a business. This free workshop, presented by Allen B. Kronick, Senior Business Advisor, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network Western Regional Office, will focus on business fundamentals, from startup considerations to business plan development and funding sources. It is designed for owners of existing businesses as well as those who are planning to start one. The workshop will help entrepreneurs write a business plan and provide structure to starting/managing their venture. Cost: No charge, but pre-registration is required. Register online at www.franklincc.org.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• Dec. 1: Holiday Party, 4:30-6:30 p.m., at the Collegian Court, 89 Park St., Chicopee. Sponsored by PeoplesBank. Enjoy hors’ douevres, cash bar, door prize, and wish each other a wonderful holiday season and New Year. Door-prize entry with business card, win a beautiful holiday decoration made by  Heidi. Cost: Free for all chamber members to attend. Register by emailing [email protected]

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

• Dec. 21: Chamber After Hours December 2016, 5-7 p.m. Sponsored and Hosted by the Delaney House, Three Country Club Road, Holyoke. This business networking event in a festive atmosphere includes a 50/50 raffle, door prizes, and money (scratch ticket) wreath. Cost: $10/members, $15/non-members. Public registration has closed. Call (413) 534-3376 for more information.

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

• Dec. 9: Microsoft Excel: Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts, 9-11 a.m., at the
Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 325A King Street, Northampton, MA 0106. Sponsored by: Pioneer Training. This workshop will present our favorite tips, tricks and shortcuts that we have collected and developed over 15 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. This workshop is full.

• Dec. 7: Arrive @ 5, 5-7p.m., at Silverscape Design, 1 King St., Northampton. Sponsored by: BusinessWest, Johnson & Hill Staffing Service, PeoplesBank, and WEEI. Arrive when you can, stay as long as you can. A casual mix and mingle with your colleagues and friends. Cost: $10/members. Register online at www.explorenorthampton.com.

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

• Dec. 5: Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., at Behavioral Health Network, Inc., 77 Mill Street, Westfield. Please join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. Cost: Free and open to the public. Call Pam at the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 to register for this event so we may give our host a head count.

• Dec. 16: Holiday Chamber Breakfast, 7-9 a.m., at Tekoa Country Club, 459 Russell Road, Westfield. Sponsored by: Westfield State University, Baystate Health, Savage Arms, Easthampton Savings Bank, and Walmart. A 50/50 raffle will support two Citizen’s Scholarships. As this event gets closer, online registration will be made available.  Cost: $25/members, $30/non-members, For more information or to donate a door prize for the event, please call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S CHAMBER
www.myonlinechamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• Dec. 13: Ladies Networking Night, 5-7 p.m. Hosted by: Cooper’s Curtains & Gifts 161 Main St, Agawam. This event will be featuring special sale items from their extensive collection of gifts, home and women’s apparel. Make new friends, create business contacts, enjoy the refreshments and celebrate the season. Cost: Free admission

QUABOAG HILLS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.qhma.com
(413) 283-2418

• Dec. 4: Holiday Open House, 1:30-3:30 p.m., at Keep Homestead Museum, 35 Ely Road, Monson. Holiday Open House with Gay Palach at the piano for a sing-a-long Cost: Free, donations accepted.

• Dec. 8: Christmas Concert and Dinner, 6-9 p.m., at Old Sturbridge Village, 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge. Experience an evening of festive cocktails, fine dining and a special holiday concert presented by The Worcester Chamber Society, a mixed classical chamber ensemble performing selections of Baroque music with a holiday theme. Learn more about The Worcester Chamber Society at http://worcesterchambermusic.org/ Menu: 1st course: Tossed mixed greens with Parmesan Tuile; entrée: Braised short ribs with mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables (vegetarian entrée available by request); dessert: Chocolate peppermint cake. Cost: $55/Old Sturbridge Village members; $65/non-members. Register online at https://www.osv.org/event/christmas-dinner-concert-2016.

• Dec. 10 and 11: Fall Workshop Showcase 2016, 7 p.m. on Dec. 10 and 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 11, at the Palmer Historical & Cultural Center 2072 Main St., Three Rivers. Greene Room Productions acting students and the GRP Professional Youth Acting Troupe Kids Tour join to perform a wonderful evening of family friendly entertainment. Visit  www.qhma.com for show details. Cost: $6-$15. Contact Erin Wallace at (413) 668-7284 for more information.

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

• Dec. 2: 28th Annual Holiday Stroll — Photos with Santa, 5:45-7:30 p.m., at South Hadley Town Common at the Intersection of Route 116 and 47. The event begins at 5:45 p.m. with the Michael E. Smith Middle School Choir, then Santa lights the Holiday Tree at 6 p.m. There will be a parade down Route 116 with Santa and the elves. The evening includes music from the South Hadley Community Band and the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. Parents can take a photograph of the kids with Santa, and more. It’s a great family event.

• Dec. 7: Networking event, noon, at Yarde Tavern 3 Hadley St, South Hadley. Network and meet new people. We suggest you bring some business cards. If you really want to make your mark, have a one-minute elevator pitch ready during introductions. Show up with a friend or colleague if you like, and make some new friends and business relationships. Who knows what positive results will happen next. Cost: Free to attend. RSVP to [email protected]

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

• Dec. 7: SRC December 2016 [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., at the
Log Cabin, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Sponsored by United Personnel. ‘Generational Differences in the Workplace,’ panel presentation. Millennials in the workplace — how are you changing your recruitment and on-boarding processes to attract this new population? Once they are on board, what steps are you taking from an employee engagement perspective to keep them happy? Learn from some of the senior HR professionals in the region on how to integrate Millennials into your workplace with the GenX and Baby Boomer employees, the positive impacts the generation is having on your workplace, and the biggest challenges you face as you integrate multiple generations to work together. Saluting Robinson Donovan — 150 years & Collins Electric — 110 years. Emcee, Ryan Smith, “The Voice the Thunderbirds.” Cost: $22.50/members in advance ($25 at door), $30 General admission in advance ($35 at door). Public registration is closed.

• Dec. 14: Springfield Regional Chamber “The Art of Networking” After 5. 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Hosted by: Ninth Floor Art Gallery, 1350 Main Street, Springfield
Cost: $5/members, $10/non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com

WEST OF THE RIVER
www.ourwrc.com
413-426-3880

• Dec. 7: 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m., Wicked Wednesday, hosted by: Farmington Bank, 85 Elm St., West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants. These events bring members and non-members together to social network in a laid-back atmosphere. Cost; Free/member, $10/non-members (Event is open to the public-must pay at the door if you’re a non-member) For more information contact the chamber office at 413-426-3880 or email us at [email protected]

• Dec. 15: 12 p.m.-2 p.m., Google Lunch Seminar/SCORE, Hosted by: West Springfield Public Library-Community Room, 200 Park St, West Springfield, Let SCORE give valuable tips on how to effectively use GOOGLE to market your business. Cost: Free
Register online: www.westoftheriverchamber.com or call 414-426-3880

• Feb. 9: 12 p.m.-1:30 p.m., Multi-Chamber Lunch N Learn Seminar on Roberts Rules of Order, hosted by: Storrowton Tavern, 1305 Memorial Ave, West Springfield. Enjoy lunch while learning about Roberts Rules of Order with guest speaker, Robert MacDonald. Cost: $35 per guest – Sponsorship Opportunities are available for this event. For more information contact the chamber office at 413-426-3880 or email us at [email protected]

• Feb. 22: 7 a.m.-9 a.m., Legislative Breakfast, hosted by: Storrowton Tavern, 1305 Memorial Ave, West Springfield. The Breakfast will have a panel of various legislatures and our Mayors discussing community concerns, giving updates on our towns, and taking Q&A from the audience. Cost: $30/members $35/non-members. Register online at www.westoftheriverchamber.com or contact the chamber office at 413-426-3880 or email us at [email protected]

Holiday Gift Guide Sections

Green Expectations

Nicole Sweeney

Nicole Sweeney says new offerings like Gifted Tones Paint and Music Lounge will keep shoppers engaged during holiday-season visits to Eastfield Mall.

Carolyn Edwards is surrounded by dozens of stores on a daily basis, so she tends to do her holiday shopping late in December.

But this year, she purchased two Christmas gifts in mid-October and joined the growing ranks of consumers on an early quest to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list.

“It’s not something I normally do, but sales inspired me to start shopping early,” said the general manager of Lee Premium Outlets.

Tempting gift items also spurred Nicole Sweeney to start shopping well in advance of Christmas, and by Halloween she had a pile of holiday gifts sitting on her desk.

“I don’t wait until Black Friday to shop, but I have never done it this early before,” said the marketing manager at Eastfield Mall in Springfield, noting that purchasing things over a period of several months helps to mitigate the sticker shock that many people face at Christmas.

National surveys show that two in 10 shoppers began their annual quest for the perfect present in early October, and big-box stores put Halloween and Christmas decorations and merchandise on display at about the same time.

“Black Friday preview sales were started early to get people’s appetites going for the holiday spending that leads up to the day after Thanksgiving [Black Friday]. But that day is not like it used to be,” Sweeney said.

Indeed, retailers have already begun to cash in on the final quarter of the year, and the forecast for the season is green. The International Council of Shopping Centers has predicted a 3.5% increase in holiday shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, compared to the 2.2% gain last year; the National Retail Foundation (NRF) expects retail sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas, and restaurants) to increase a solid 3.6% to $655.8 billion; and Deloitte predicts holiday spending to increase between 3.6% and 4% from November through January, topping $1 trillion.

Although online shopping is on the rise and cuts into the pockets of mom-and-pop operations that don’t have websites with free shipping, PwC’s 2016 Retail and Consumer Holiday Outlook survey notes that almost 75% of consumers plan to shop locally, 56% will seek independent retailers, and consumers with annual household incomes less than $50,000 will increase their spending more than consumers overall.


List of Companies Offering Corporate Gifts


In addition, more people will have cash to spend because retailers have hired, or are planning to hire, between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers, in line with last year’s 675,300 holiday positions.

Gifts are expected to run the gamut from toys to clothing, and high-tech items such as tablets, phones, and gaming devices are expected to be popular, but many people will choose their own presents after the holidays, because gift cards are expected to make up 32% of purchases.

“The stores had their holiday décor in place by the end of October, and the day after Halloween, we went into the holiday season full force,” Edwards said, echoing other retail spokespeople who said Christmas music began playing Nov. 1 and the sound of cash registers humming added to the spirit of the shopping season.

New Attractions

Lisa Wray says the unofficial kickoff for the holiday season at Holyoke Mall was Veterans Day weekend.

“Santa arrived Nov. 12 in a fire truck escorted by the Holyoke Fire Department, and we were ready for the people here to do their holiday shopping,” said the marketing director for Holyoke and Hampshire malls.

Lisa Wray

Lisa Wray says Holyoke Mall’s holiday sales should be in line with national projections, but foot traffic should get a boost from several new stores.

She expects sales to be in line with the NRF’s predictions, but expects foot traffic to get a boost, because Holyoke Mall has added eight new stores in the last seven months.

They include Zales Jewelers, a cell-phone accessory and repair shop called Shatter and Case, a women’s plus-size clothing store called Torrid, a newly remodeled Bath & Body Works and White Barn Candle, a Touch of Beauty Nails & Spa, Sprint, CilantroMex restaurant, and Billy Beez, an indoor play park with a jungle theme featuring fun that ranges from bouncing to jumping, sliding, climbing, and more.

Although people will not be camping out on Black Friday like they did years ago, Wray said, it’s still a significant day at Holyoke Mall; many large retailers will open their doors at 12:01 a.m. and people will be lined up to take advantage of promotions.

“Stores like Target, Sears, and Best Buy will all have doorbuster sales that are still a big draw,” said Wray, adding that Holyoke and Hampshire malls will open at 7 a.m.

All of this year’s holiday carts and kiosks at Eastfield Mall were in place Nov. 1, but Black Friday is not as big as it used to be, Sweeney told BusinessWest, adding that Eastfield also has new stores and venues, including a Bounce! Indoor Inflatable Park that opened earlier this fall and is already attracting families.

“My instinct is that places that offer experiences will have an edge this year, because that allows people to wrap in something festive with their shopping,” she said, explaining that parents can combine a trip to Bounce! and shopping in one visit; people can shop, then listen to live music at Donovan’s Pub or take in a movie before and after making purchases.

“Foot traffic is important because we have a lot of mom-and-pop stores. It’s getting easier and faster to shop online, so it’s become very competitive, but one-day preview sales generate a lot of excitement because they offer really good deals in advance of Black Friday,” Sweeney noted, explaining that special promotions will continue throughout the season to accommodate those who shop early, late, and anytime in between.

Other new ventures at Eastfield Mall include V-Stream Dreams, a store that sells an alternative to a TV cable box that allows people to get a multitude of channels with minimal or no lag time; and Gifted Tones Paint and Music Lounge, an art store where people can learn to paint alone or with friends.

Lee Premium Outlets also has new stores, including Kay Jewelers, Guess, a Toys R Us Express, and 10,000 Villages, which will be open only during the holiday season.

“Outlet centers are driven by promotions, and the stores here are offering really good sales. They are difficult to pass up, and folks are already taking advantage of them; they aren’t waiting for the snow to fly or for the week of Thanksgiving to get started on their shopping,” Edwards said, noting that handbags and accessories are always popular, and Michael Kors and Coach are good places to find these gifts.

She added that sales will be heavily promoted, and the right price point will inspire people to make purchases, which often include gifts for themselves.

Positive Signs

The fourth quarter of the year is a critical time for retailers, an obvious point that still needs to be stressed.

“The holiday season is so important to them that they can’t let a day go to waste,” Sweeney said.

Holyoke Mall expects to meet expectations forecast by the NRF and other retail groups, and the forecast is equally bright at Lee Premium Outlets.

“All of the early indicators this year are that we will meet or exceed last year’s sales. The numbers should come in for us,” Thomas said.

Which will indeed bring joy to local retailers who hope the sound of cash registers processing sales will continue to ring in a very merry Christmas.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity’s (GSHFH) 16th annual Fall Feastival on Nov. 3 raised more than $50,000 to support the organization’s work.

The event was hosted at Twin Hills Country Club in Longmeadow. Hundreds from the community gathered alongside more than 30 sponsors, making it one of the most successful events in Habitat’s history. Eventgoers enjoyed food from a dozen local restaurants, raffles, silent and live auctions, and a touching speech from a long-time Habitat family.

“We’re thrilled with the turnout and participation by so many members of our community,” said Jennifer Schimmel, executive director. “This is a testimony to how much our community cares about meeting needs right here at home. We want to extend a sincere and heartfelt ‘thank you’ to everyone who participated.”

Since its founding in 1987, Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity has helped more than 60 local families, and 90 international families, realize their dream of safe, decent, and affordable home ownership.

“Every one of our partnering organizations and community friends who work tirelessly to keep our communities vital and strong are truly appreciated,” Schimmel said.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Jennifer Tabakin

Jennifer Tabakin says Great Barrington wants to partner with a developer interested in a historic reuse of a former school in Housatonic Village.

Two years ago Christopher Rembold described investment in Great Barrington as a “rising wave.”

That surge has continued to gain force, and today Rembold says the wave has arrived, as major projects downtown come to fruition that were spurred in part by a $5.2 million renovation of Main Street that was finished this summer and includes new drainage, sidewalks, traffic signals, and landscaping.

“Recently permitted and planned private investment has totaled close to $70 million over the past year, and we’re seeing the type of growth we wanted to encourage,” said the town planner. “Many places talk about forming public-private investment partnerships, but it has actually happened here; there is a lot of activity going on and a lot of opportunity.”

He noted that the town’s goal has been to build a foundation for economic growth centered in its downtown area.

Now that the Main Street project is complete, Bridge Street will become the next focus, and a $2 million renovation will begin next spring, funded by a MassWorks grant that will replace crumbling sidewalks, improve poor drainage, and address deterioration not conducive to business.

In addition, the town and the Mass. Department of Transportation have partnered and will spend $2 million on the Bridge Street Bridge; plans are also progressing on a $9 million to $10 million upgrade of the sewer-treatment plant to accommodate investment and meet new environmental standards.

The work hasn’t been completed yet, but developers have already sprung into action, and a number of major projects on Bridge Street have been permitted (more about those later) that will preserve historic structures, retain the town’s charm, and add not only market rate and affordable housing, but new retail and office space.

Town officials attribute the willingness to invest in Great Barrington to a number of factors: its excellent schools, award-winning Fairview Hospital, two colleges, unique shops and eateries, abundant recreational opportunities, beautiful open space, and generations of families and business owners who have made it their home and care deeply about the community.

Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin told BusinessWest that all the private investments being made are by developers who live in Berkshire County and recognize the value of Great Barrington as the hub of South County.

“We’re a small town with a lot of amenities that you would only expect to find in a metropolitan area; we have an excellent school district and a significant number of theaters, yoga studios, and restaurants downtown,” Tabakin noted. “We also have historic architecture, unique local businesses, and a very active Chamber of Commerce that encompasses 13 communities. Many people come here to work, shop, eat, and enjoy our cultural activities. The number of people who work here every day is greater than the number of residents in town.”

Although growth has surged and is expected to be ongoing, officials note it has been carefully crafted and is in complete alignment with the town’s master plan, created several years ago to preserve Great Barrington’s small-town feel and charm while supporting investments centered around its downtown.

“One of the priorities of the master plan was to cluster new residential and commercial space in the center of town, which allows us to preserve open space in the surrounding rural and scenic areas,” said Tabakin. “We’re seeing that implemented, which is very exciting.”

Reuse of Historic Sites

Bridge Street will see new life in the coming years due to a number of new projects.

For example, Chrystal and Vijay Mahida plan a $25 million historic renovation of the former Searles School at 79 Bridge St. that will transform the four-story property into an 88-room, four-star hotel called the Berkshire, and create 30 new full-time jobs when it opens in 2018.

“We have a limited amount of hotel and conference space, and the new hotel will fill the gap while preserving the historic façade of the school, which is downtown and two minutes from our Town Hall and theaters,” Rembold said, adding that the couple lives in Great Barrington and own the Fairfield Marriott Hotel in town.

“It’s an excellent project because it will bring additional businesses into town, support existing and future businesses, and have a real fiscal impact due to the hotel and meal taxes it will generate,” he continued.

 

Many places talk about forming public-private investment partnerships, but it has actually happened here; there is a lot of activity going on and a lot of opportunity.”

 

Another major project at 100 Bridge St. will be built on a brownfields site that the Community Development Corp. has been working to clean up for two decades.

Nearly 50 units of affordable housing have been permitted on the eight-acre site, and there are plans to build a public park on two acres in a future phase of the project.

“Not only is there a real need for affordable housing here, there is support for it,” Rembold noted. “Some towns take a negative view, but Great Barrington has made affordable housing fit. We hope families will move into the new downtown units and be able to walk to work and the grocery store.”

Benchmark Development, based in Lenox, also has plans for a new project that will include the Great Barrington Co-Op Market at 42 Bridge St.

“The Co-Op has been busting at the seams for several years,” Rembold said, noting that the owners want to stay in town and will be the anchor tenant in the new, three-story building that Benchmark plans to erect. Their permit application is expected to be submitted this month.

“The project will allow us to retain jobs and create new ones,” he continued, adding that the co-op will be on the ground floor, retail shops will occupy the street floor (the land slopes), and 22 one- and two-bedroom apartment units will be built on the upper floor. A second phase of the project, which is not expected to kick off for about two years, could add 36 additional apartments, which would increase residential living spaces within walking distance of downtown.

“It’s a story of public investment in infrastructure that created a positive environment, which encouraged private investment,” Tabakin said.

Another major historic renovation recently permitted at 47 Railroad St. involves a $4 million renovation of the existing downtown building.

47 Railroad LLC plans to convert the former restaurant and bar on the first floor into three units of retail space, and build an addition in the back that will house two stores.

The second floor will become home to seven market-rate apartments, and the third floor will have five apartment units and a rooftop garden that will be accessible from the hallway.

Ancillary Growth

Housatonic is a small village within Great Barrington that is home to about 1,000 residents as well as the Monument Mills Complex that offers breathtaking views of the Housatonic River, Monument Mountain, and Flag Rock.

“The village is a historic gem, and all of the mills are partially occupied by businesses that are leaders in their field, such as Country Curtains,” Tabakin said.

But there is still space available, and the town is seeking a developer to partner with on an historic adaptive reuse of a three-story, 20,000-square-foot former elementary school with an adjacent parking lot in a way that will benefit the local economy.

“We hope it will become an anchor building that will spur further development in the mills,” Tabakin said, noting that businesses ranging from a dance studio to artists’ studios recently moved into the complex.

The town will continue to facilitate investment and has upgraded roads and passed new zoning that preserves the historic area while accommodating new, mixed-use development. In addition, Great Barrington recently received close to $2 million in grants to preserve the stock of affordable housing in the village and make more infrastructure improvements, and the state will begin rehabilitating the Park Street Bridge in coming weeks.

“We’re trying to set the stage for growth in Housatonic like we did in our downtown so it can blossom, and we are already seeing it happen on a smaller scale,” Rembold told BusinessWest.

To that end, a mill owner on the north side of the village is working to secure historic tax credits for a mixed-use development in the structure’s 250,000 square feet, and a historic church and old train station have become world-class recording studios.

“Housatonic is a very small, quiet area with historic charm and interesting architecture,” Tabakin said. “People have lived there for generations and care about the community.”

Historic Charm

Great Barrington officials are pleased that the growth that is occurring in their town aligns with what the community wants.

“People come to the Berkshires because of its beautiful scenery, so preserving it is important. But we also want to preserve history, which includes our buildings and downtown; they are reasons why people want to visit and live here,” Rembold said.

Tabakin concurred. “All of the ongoing projects are preserving and enhancing what is unique about Great Barrington. There was a lot of pent-up desire while people were waiting for Main Street to be finished, and building owners have been making improvements since it was finished.”

The Bridge Street public and private projects promise to generate another wave of enthusiasm, and as residents move into new housing, dine in new eateries, and shop in new retail stores, the tide can only continue to rise.

Great Barrington at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 7,014
Area: 45.2 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $14.60
Commercial Tax Rate: $14.60
Median Household Income: $45,149
Family Household Income: $75,238
Type of government: Open town meeting
Largest Employers: Fairview Dialysis Center; Fairview Hospital; Kutsher’s Sports Academy; Prairie Whale
Latest information available

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Michael Sundell and Mayor Karen Cadieux

Michael Sundell and Mayor Karen Cadieux say the new Mill 180 Park is a unique venue that provides people with a place to relax, have fun, and enjoy nature free of charge.

It’s a park like no other.

To begin with, it’s inside an old mill building and filled with a seemingly endless array of large, leafy edible plants that are used to prepare foods in the open restaurant that sits in the park’s center. The plants are grown hydroponically, or without soil, and are nourished with lights and a special mineral solution.

There are spaces inside the park’s 14,000 square feet to suit every mood: private and communal seating areas, a mushroom house designed to be an enclosed area for meetings and other gatherings, an amphitheater built for lounging and conversation, and the multi-level Hamptonaeum, which park owner Michael Sundel says is a modern version of space set aside centuries ago by towns and cities to promote learning.

The park, which opened Sept. 7, has already put down roots in the community, and on a recent day families were enjoying the golf putting area, ring toss, bocce, and two cornhole games in a space where Sundel hopes to start cornhole leagues this winter.

To make things even better, the park is open seven days a week, there is no admission charge, and everything — except the food in the restaurant — is free.

Indeed, Mill 180 Park in Easthampton is a new concept and pilot that Sundel created to give children and adults a place to do things they would normally enjoy in an urban yard on a year-round basis.

“I wanted to give people the sense that they are in nature in a place that is educational, fun, and relaxing,” he told BusinessWest, adding that his background is in software and he hopes he can sell the idea and expand the park in the future.

It’s a quiet place filled with relaxing sounds, created through a process known as weatherbending; the sounds change constantly according to elements such as the local weather, the time of day and time of year, and the cycles of seeding, growing, maturing, and harvesting in the hydroponic gardens.

Visitors have been treated to live music on Friday nights, birthday parties have been held there, and so has a Democratic Committee meeting, among other meetings. And the park has applied for one of the eight new all-alcohol liquor licenses Easthampton has granted to stimulate business downtown and in the Mill District.

Mayor Karen Cadieux loves the park, has attended events in it, and sees it as an exciting addition to a multitude of projects that have been taking place in Easthampton.

“We are just buzzing with economic growth and have had eight ribbon-cuttings in the last month alone,” she said, noting that the grand-opening events took place at diverse businesses ranging from Mill 180 Park to a new club where people can play table tennis, an interior-design studio, an art studio, a laser and cosmetic-surgery center, and a manufacturing facility.

Some of the businesses are new ventures, others chose to move to the city, and still others changed their location within Easthampton because they needed room to expand.

But they all speak to the vitality of a city that has transformed its mills, created a thriving arts district, and become a destination, thanks to public and private investments and partnerships thoughtfully forged between the city and its business community.

For this edition, BusinessWest continues its Community Spotlight series with a look at what is happening in Easthampton and the factors that have led to what Cadieux calls “a whirlwind of economic activity.”

Reinventing Space

Developer Mike Michon, who is responsible for the revitalization of Mill 180, purchased it after deciding in 2008 to move his family to Western Mass.

They were living on the South Shore, and he looked at sites in Springfield and Holyoke before finding Mill 180, which he purchased largely due to its location.

“I did a demographic study before I moved here, met people in City Hall, and thought it was a nice place to do business. Everyone in town has been very supportive,” he said.

The mill was in really bad shape when he bought it, but the fact that it faces Mt. Tom and has a pond, bike path, and park behind it appealed to him.

“I thought it would be a great place for mixed-use development,” Michon said, adding that it took a year to put the deal together, but he found the city “very developer-friendly” as he obtained the permits needed to move forward.

Today, in addition to the new indoor park, Mill 180 is home to the Conway School of Landscape Architecture, a number of software and advertising companies, a machine shop, and an insurance company, all of which occupy the first two floors.

The mill’s third floor contains 24 high-end, market-rate apartments with beautiful views. The final units were completed in June, and although rents are as high as $2,400 per month, they were all pre-rented before they were finished.

Phase 3 of the six-mile section of the Manhan Rail Trail that runs through Easthampton behind the mills was recently completed and is expected to bring foot and vehicular traffic to tenants, include new breweries with outdoor patios facing the bike path, and all types of businesses.

Phase 3 included a new, 1.4 million-square-foot, lighted parking lot that runs behind all of the mill buildings; walkways that provide access from the bike path to the parking lot; and a retaining wall that separates the parking area from the rail trail.

Michon said the changes and new parking lot are a wonderful example of a very successful public-private venture that was funded by three major MassWorks grants.

Cadieux noted that the Pleasant Street Mills Project started with work by the city so the fire department could access the back of the building.

But it quickly morphed into a larger project: the mills were rezoned for mixed use, and the city worked closely with the Pleasant Street owners.

Michon played an important role, as he recognized in 2010 that more parking was needed, and after talking with legislators, he and another mill owner spent a significant amount of money upgrading their spaces.

The magnitude of the project also led Eversource (formerly WMECO) to upgrade the electric lines going into the buildings.

“It’s something they had not planned to do for 10 years, but they were inspired by the project and the fact that the mill owners invested money to do renovations at the same time,” Cadieux said.

Today, thanks to three substantial MassWorks grants, three of the revitalized, 19th-century brick mill buildings have been connected, there is a main public entryway behind them, and the expanded parking lot that ties the back of the mills to the Manhan Rail Trail, Lower Mill Pond, and CCC Park, on the other side of the rail trail behind the mills, was finally finished several weeks ago.

“It’s incredible to get grants for three years from the state, but it’s because of our success story,” Cadieux said. “It’s an example of state dollars put to use at their best.”

Diverse Growth

The majority of change taking place in Easthampton is occurring in the Mill District and the Cottage Street Cultural District, which was one of the first cultural districts approved by the state.

Cadieux said three grand openings were staged over the past month in the Keystone Mill Building at 122 Pleasant St., where ongoing renovations have been made to suit tenants.

Design House 413 Kitchen Showroom recently held a grand opening in the building, and so did New England Felting Supply and KW Home, which both moved from the former Majestic Theater building on Cottage Street because they needed room to expand.

Cadieux said the space they had occupied was filled immediately by Off the Map Tattoo, another Easthampton business which had outgrown its space, but wanted to stay in the city and was able to consolidate its operations under one roof in its new location at 82½ Cottage St.

“We were really excited that Off the Map found the space they needed because we didn’t want to lose the business,” Cadieux said, noting that, in addition to offering tattoos and tattoo removal, the business hosts guest artists, offers a wide array of special events and educational seminars, and has other locations in Colorado and Italy.

Another unusual new business — Zing! Table Tennis Club — also opened in the past few weeks in a 3,800-square-foot space at 122 Pleasant St.

Cadieux told BusinessWest that the ribbon cuttings are expected to continue, because an entirely new business is waiting to open in the Keystone Mill Building.

Easthampton officials approved a 27,000-square-foot medical-marijuana cultivation and dispensary/retail store in March that will be operated by Hampden County Care Facility Inc. and is expected to create 50 new jobs. At this point, the company is waiting for state approval to open.

However, the mills are not the only area where growth is occurring. A ribbon cutting was held several weeks ago at the Button Building on 123 Union St. when Dr. William Truswell, a board-certified facial plastic surgeon, moved his Aesthetic Laser & Cosmetic Surgery Center from Northampton to Easthampton.

“The Button Building was purchased several years ago by Five Star Building Corp., has been completely renovated, and is almost filled to capacity,” Cadieux said.

In addition, on Sept. 23, two artists opened Spot 22 in the Cottage Street Cultural District. Amy Johnquest, who makes custom-painted banners under the BannerQueen moniker, is sharing the space with photo dealer Stacy Waldman, who collects and sells vintage snapshots, photographs, and ephemera under the name House of Mirth, and the business is expected to bring a new element to the thriving area.

“We’re very lucky to be able to maintain our economic diversity,” Cadieux said.

She attributes the accelerated growth that has taken place in the city over the past few years to the single tax rate, the vibrancy of the community, and the unusually strong partnerships that exist between the city and its businesses.

But they have been carefully forged, and the mayor is doing all she can to facilitate growth.

For example, whenever a business is interested in moving to Easthampton she sets up a meeting with city officials, that include the fire and police chiefs, the city planner, a health agent, and representatives from the Building Commission and Department of Public Works, who sit down with the business owner and let them know what they need to do before they go in front of the regulatory board.

“It has worked out very well; businesses are attracted to a thriving community, and that’s what we are,” Cadieux said.

The city also updated its website several months ago, making it more user friendly as well as comprehensive, and published a Small Business Permitting Guide in June.

And in June, the mayor staged a so-called ‘Listening Session’ for the entire business community, and their concerns were taken into consideration in a review undertaken by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to determine if ordinances need to be changed to keep the city competitive with surrounding communities.

“I wanted to find out if we are over-regulated, under-regulated, and if we are really competitive,” Cadieux said, adding the report was just completed.

Moving Forward

Dramatic changes that have occurred in Easthampton in recent years include the revitalization of the mill area and the fact that the city has become a place known for the arts, thanks to Cottage Street’s designation by the Mass Cultural Council as a Cultural District.

“That area is thriving and filled with artists, restaurants, and businesses. We’ve been working on the downtown area for many years and it’s an amazing build out,” Cadieux said, noting the addition of three breweries and the $945,000 Nashawannuk Pond Promenade Park which was finished last year and boasts a boardwalk, three handicapped boat ramps, and an area for fishing, have made Easthampton a destination location.

“It’s all a continuum of how we have been rebuilding the community; there is so much going on here that it is difficult to focus on any one thing,” Cadieux said.

Which makes Mill 180 Park even more important, because it provides residents with an unusual place to relax, have fun and enjoy the beauty of nature — albeit, inside.

Easthampton at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1809
Population: 16,036
Area: 13.6 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $15.59
Commercial Tax Rate: $15.59
Median Household Income: $57,134
Family Household Income: $78,281
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Berry Plastics; Williston Northampton School; National Non Wovens; October Co.

* Latest information available

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The newly reorganized South End Business Assoc. (SEBA) has been busy over the summer, electing a slate of officers and launching a beautification campaign.

Local business owners reorganized the dormant organization and elected officers for the first time in several years at SEBA’s monthly meeting in July: President Tony Calabrese (AC Produce); Vice President Greg Zorzi (Studio One Inc.); Treasurer Susan Mulvey (E.B. Atmus Co.); and Secretary Sarah Page (HAPHousing).

SEBA has had a long-standing presence in the South End, the historic neighborhood adjacent to downtown Springfield that boasts dozens of restaurants and small businesses. The newly revitalized organization now counts nearly 60 members and is continuing to grow. Over the past year, SEBA has drafted bylaws, worked with the city to increase police foot patrols, and doubled attendance at monthly meetings. The organization is focused on expanding business opportunity and civic engagement in the South End, while promoting the district as a great place to shop, eat, live, and do business.

The revitalized organization kicked off its beautification campaign this summer with the installation of 44 hanging flower baskets along Main Street. Funding for the flowers and equipment to hang them was onated by SEBA members, including MGM Springfield, along with the Springfield Business Improvement District. SEBA is currently brainstorming ways to continue its beautification efforts and draw additional foot traffic to the neighborhood.

“These flowers are our way of saying that the South End is open for business,” Calabrese said. “We want visitors, shoppers, and diners to feel welcome. The business owners have really rallied around this project, and I think it’s a great sign of things to come.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The United Way of Pioneer Valley Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) will host its third annual Wine and Beer Tasting and Silent Auction on Wednesday, Oct. 5 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the TD Bank Center in Springfield. The event will raise money to support local initiatives for women and girls.

“When women in the WLC connect around an idea to improve lives, anything is possible,” said Kathryn Dube, senior vice president at TD Bank and co-chair of the event, which will bring together local wine and beer distributors and restaurants offering a variety of food and beverage options that attendees can enjoy while browsing silent auction items donated by local companies. To RSVP, call ShyReshia Perry at (413) 693-0200.

Sponsors for the event include Berkshire Bank, BusinessWest, TD Bank, Health New England, Springfield Technical Community College, Holyoke Community College, Sodexo, Aaron’s Rent-to-Own, Harry Grodsky & Co., and the Markens Group. Media sponsors include WMAS, WEIB, WMAS Citadel/Cumulus Media Group, and Spanish Radio WSPR – Bomba Radio 1490 and 1270.

Opinion

Opinion

By W. Scott Butsch, MD, MSc, and Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA

For more than a decade, obesity has been recognized as an epidemic condition in the U.S., and the numbers certainly justify the characterization.

Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 36% of adults have obesity, and a report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation declares that not a single state in the union has an adult obesity rate of less than 20%. While the obesity rate for children is lower, it, too, is alarming: 17% of Americans aged 2-19 years — nearly 13 million children and adolescents — struggle with obesity.

Despite enormous attention and numerous programs to reduce obesity — by federal, state, and local governments, community agencies, businesses, schools, and others — the high numbers persist, putting millions of Americans at risk of some of the leading causes of preventable death, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

The standard means of measuring obesity is the body-mass index (BMI), a formula that estimates a person’s total body fat based on height and weight. Someone with a BMI of 25-30 is considered overweight; a BMI of 30 or more is classified as having obesity. While BMI is a useful tool to estimate health risk, examining obesity and its health risks on an individual basis is more complicated than just determining a single number.

When we’re born, our bodies contain a certain number of fat cells, which is important, because they store fat for energy. Fat cells accumulate in childhood, but when we become adults, our bodies don’t gain additional fat cells; these cells just increase or decrease in size.

That increase or decrease in the size of the fat cells is what leads to weight gain or loss. This is important to understand, because it is the amount of fat in a person’s body that relates to health risks and raises concern among physicians. That’s why prevention in childhood is so critical: if a person is overweight or has obesity as a child, it is likely that overweight and obesity — and the accompanying conditions of poor health — will follow as an adult.

Conventional wisdom has thought of obesity as primarily a lifestyle issue, even a character flaw, with people simply eating too much and not getting enough physical exercise. However, research over the last two decades describes a highly complex system that controls our body weight, with many other factors besides diet and exercise, in addition to our own biology, contributing to obesity.

Also within the past few decades, our environment has changed dramatically, and some of those changes have led to weight gain in individuals predisposed to obesity. A proliferation of fast-food restaurants, exposure to high-calorie foods, and the easy availability of processed foods, reduction in sleep, increased stress in a fast-paced world, and a tendency toward more sedentary lifestyles encouraged by technological advances all have played a role in weight gain.

Diet and exercise are important, but they’re only parts of the puzzle. Consideration of diet, for example, should reflect not just how much we eat, or how we limit portion size, but what we eat. Eating more healthful foods, with an eye on nutritional content, is a much better approach. That’s why it’s important to read and understand the nutrition labels on food. The new nutrition facts label, announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May, should be a step forward in helping consumers make better choices about the foods they purchase.

Other factors can also lead to being overweight or having obesity, such as the quality and quantity of our sleep, and even certain medications, like anti-depressants and medications for high blood pressure, may contribute to weight gain.

For patients with overweight and obesity, it is important to recognize the associated adverse effects on health over a lifetime. It is equally important for those patients to engage in a critical self-assessment, preferably with a physician, on all of the factors that can be linked to weight gain, to see where improvements can be made to help reduce weight.

Dr. W. Scott Butsch and Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford are physicians at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center and members of the Mass. Medical Society’s Committee on Nutrition and Physical Activity. This article is a public service of the Mass. Medical Society.

Holiday Party Planner Sections

The Party Line

Josh Belliveau venues

Josh Belliveau says businesses planning holiday parties are drawn to the unique atmosphere of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Anthony Barbarisi recalls the years when large companies would splurge on huge holiday parties for 1,000 employees or more.

The Great Recession put a damper on the holiday-party business in general, denting sales for banquet facilities and restaurants across the region. Those very large parties haven’t really come back, said Barbarisi, sales manager at Chez Josef. But, over the past several years, most other types of parties certainly have.

“The smaller groups are coming out in force,” he said, adding quickly that companies are not only booking parties again, but have become more creative and demanding. “Menus have become really interactive. It used to be that you sat down, got your steak, and the DJ played. Now, there are a lot more exciting options out there.”

As part of the International Caterers Assoc., Chez Josef strives to keep up with the cutting edge of industry trends, he added. “We follow very closely what’s trending in the Chicagos and LAs of the world, and we try to bring it here to Agawam. And there are some very exciting trends in cooking and parties.”

The main party trend, he said, may simply be a greater focus on quality and variety of food.


See: Banquet Facilities in Western Mass.


“We do plenty of holiday parties for companies that want to book our space for the evening, and we’re finding they’re replacing the party-favor aspect of it and using that portion of the budget to enhance the menus,” Barbarisi said. “We’re doing unique stations, like a Korean noodle bar, and a lot of phenomenal dessert stations, like sundae bars. One of the newest, hottest stations is a chocolate station — it’s over the top, with all sorts of homemade chocolate concoctions; the chefs like to get really creative and push that to the limit.”

In fact, he told BusinessWest, food stations are the hot trend in the past couple of years, taking the place of sit-down dinners and traditional buffets. “With stations, it takes the best aspect about buffets — you get to pick what you like — and breaks it up into small plates. The long lines are eliminated. Guests just love it; it becomes very informal. You’re up and about picking and choosing. A lot of times they’re chef-attended, and they’ll put your plate together for you.”

Josh Belliveau, corporate sales/event manager at the Basketball Hall of Fame, said businesses planning holiday parties are asking for the full gamut of options, from formal sit-downs to buffets to cocktail parties with heavy hors d’oeuvres. The Hall handles corporate events for businesses in Western Mass. and Northern Conn., ranging anywhere from 25 guests to 300.

Most bring in their own entertainment — DJs or live bands — but many access the facility’s in-house audio system. Meanwhile, Max’s Catering, the Hall’s catering partner, handles the food service. But what really draws many clients, he said, is the atmosphere, with parties hosted on center court, surrounded by basketball history.

“Coming here is convenient and safe, and I think it’s different from other places because of the location; it’s a unique place for guests,” Belliveau said. “We have a great product that we showcase, Max Catering has a great service that they showcase, and the location is ideal. Those things not only bring companies back, but then they spread the word about what we have to offer.”

Something Different

Speaking of unique facilities, when Vitek Kruta and Lori Divine bought the Holyoke building four years ago that would become Gateway City Arts, they saw something in the dirty, empty warehouse along the city’s canals. Now, the facility functions as an artists’ workspace during the day and an event space on nights and weekends, one with a decidedly artsy, funky vibe.

“We have three different large spaces, and we’re just about to finish a fully functional commercial kitchen; right now, our food is operating out of a tiny kitchen space. That will give us the ability to prepare lots of good food,” Kruta said. Meanwhile, he and Divine are opening a restaurant on the site called Gateway City Bistro.

Still, Gateway has been hosting events for some time — weddings, fund-raisers, concerts, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, memorial services, and more, including, yes, holiday parties for businesses.

“We’re constantly booking,” he told BusinessWest. “The demand is greater than we can actually handle at this point, but because we’re nearing completion [of the kitchen], we’ll be able to cover much more demand. We are looking at three or four events every week, at least, and all sorts of activities during the week.”

He said the calendar is well-booked into next year, and that the facility hosts corporate parties of all kinds — socials, cocktail parties, and sit-down dinners.

One of the event spaces at Gateway City Arts boasts a fully equipped stage with state-of-the-art lighting for concerts and other performances. Meanwhile, a patio Beer Garden and grill area provides an opportunity to host events outdoors as well, and the facility hosts a popular Sunday brunch as well.

During the week, the building is full of artists who rent studio space and shared resources, like woodworking and ceramics shops. “We have people here making jewelry, developing toys, puppeteers, painters, writers,” Kruta said.

Gateway City Arts’ outdoor Beer Garden venue

Gateway City Arts’ outdoor Beer Garden is one of several unique, funky spaces the facility offers.

That contributes to a specific vibe that appeals to companies looking for somewhere a little different for parties, he went on. “It’s very artistic — a big loft space in the old mills, and it’s very tastefully finished with art. People say it reminds them of Brooklyn or Paris or some other place. That’s what we had in mind when we developed this facility.”

He called Gateway a huge addition to downtown, drawing close to 20,000 people a year — some in unexpected ways.

“On St. Patrick’s Day, we had 500 state troopers here getting ready to run in the marathon. We fed them all and provided space for them to change,” he said. “We’re just a multi-function place; it can be used for so many different occasions. We’re definitely open to all sorts of events.”

For small companies looking for a big-party experience but lacking the budget (not to mention the head count), large, themed holiday parties for multiple businesses at once have become a popular trend at many venues in recent years, including Chez Josef, said Barbarisi.

“And it’s not just businesses, but clubs and even groups of friends — anybody who wants to put a couple of tables together, or just one table, and come out and celebrate the holidays. We’ve had some interesting themed parties the last couple of years that have been well-received.”

For instance, this year’s roster of parties includes a country Christmas event, with a western-themed menu and entertainment by local country band Trailer Trash; a Hawaiian luau event with a tropical menu, island décor, and music from Jimmy Buffett tribute band Changes in Latitudes; as well as a comedy dinner featuring a dueling pianist performance and interactive singalongs. For its New Year Around the World event, Chez Josef will treat participating businesses and groups to food stations featuring a wide range of global cuisine.

In contrast, Belliveau said the Hall of Fame focuses more on events for individual companies than multi-group parties. “We like to take that individual client and make them and their employees feel special.”

Bottom Line

Whatever the case — and the facilities who spoke with BusinessWest for this issue all offer something unique from the others — corporate holiday parties are certainly on the rise, and have been for several years now.

“It’s started picking up a little more,” Belliveau said. “It all varies — every company works differently based on how their year goes and what they’re able to offer. The economy is improving, but you just never know. But we have a good number of parties coming.”

It doesn’t even need to be an evening-long dinner, he said, as some companies are opting for cocktail parties that last a couple of hours and give their employees a chance to relax in a different setting.

“It just feels nice,” he said, “to recognize employees during the holiday season.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The West of the River Chamber of Commerce announced its Annual Food Fest West to be held Wednesday, Oct. 26 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Crestview Country Club in Agawam.

The event will feature the foods of area restaurants including Chez Josef, Crestview Country Club, Hofbrauhaus, LPVEC, Main Street Deli, Partner’s Restaurant, Pintu’s, Storrowton Tavern, Tekoa Country Club, and more. 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.

Tickets are on sale now and are $25 in advance or $35 at the door. Tickets may be purchased online by visiting WRC’s website at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

Sponsors for the event include bronze sponsor OMG Inc. and media sponsor BusinessWest. Sponsorship opportunities are still available for Food Fest West. Call the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 for more information.

Company Notebook Departments

PeoplesBank Earns Accolades

HOLYOKE — Eighty-five Massachusetts companies were honored at the Boston Business Journal’s 11th annual Corporate Citizenship Summit on Sept. 8 at the EpiCenter at Artists for Humanity in Boston. For the ninth time, PeoplesBank was among the companies included, this year finishing 48th on the statewide list and third for companies headquartered in Western Mass. Meanwhile, AdvisoryHQ has named PeoplesBank to its list of “The Top Ten Banks in Massachusetts” after an extensive review. “The contributions these companies make to Massachusetts are incredibly impressive and go a long way toward helping strengthen the communities we live in,” said Boston Business Journal Market President and Publisher Carolyn Jones at the Sept. 8 event. Matthew Bannister, vice president, Corporate Responsibility at PeoplesBank, accepted the award at the summit on behalf of the bank’s associates. “Our mutual charter supports everything we do and why we are succeeding as a community bank,” he said. “Because of our mutual charter and related values, we have a unique ability to help the communities we serve through volunteer efforts and millions of dollars in donations to charitable and civic causes.” The Boston Business Journal’s “Top Corporate Charitable Contributors” list is composed of companies that gave at least $100,000 to Massachusetts-based charities in 2015. According to Advisory HQ, “the names on this list of banks in Massachusetts are all very distinctive from one another, yet all have many advantages, benefits, and value-creating products and services that make them excellent choices for consumers seeking the very best in financial services.” The bank’s corporate values were highlighted by AdvisoryHQ in its announcement of the list, which noted, “the corporate philosophy of PeoplesBank is a commitment to customers, maintaining corporate responsibility, creating a great place to work, and always striving to improve their environment.” Added Thomas Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank, “AdvisoryHQ has accurately identified the values we are proud of. As a mutual bank, we strive to serve our customers and the community as well as support the environment and our associates’ growth and development. These are also the qualities that we believe separate us from other financial institutions and truly make us a top bank.” PeoplesBank was recently highlighted by the Assoc. for Customer Loyalty for the bank’s commitment to customers, was named a Top Place to Work by the Boston Globe, and an Employer of Choice by the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, and has received environmental-sustainability awards from the city of Springfield (the first-ever GreenSeal Award), BankNews (Green Leaf Award), and the American Bankers Assoc. (Sustainable Banking Award). AdvisoryHQ also suggested that the bank’s mobile app was one of the reasons it made the list of Top Ten Banks in Massachusetts. PeoplesBank was one of the first community banks in the nation to launch a mobile app and mobile deposit.

Baystate Hospitals Merge Under One License

The Mass. Public Health Council approved Baystate Wing Hospital’s application to merge Baystate Mary Lane Hospital with Baystate Wing Hospital and combine the two facilities and their respective satellite facilities under one license. The last day of inpatient services at Baystate Mary Lane was Sept. 9. As of Sept. 10, Baystate Mary Lane became a satellite of Baystate Wing. Inpatient care at Baystate Mary Lane transitioned to Baystate Wing, while all outpatient services will continue at Baystate Mary Lane. Baystate Mary Lane Emergency Department will now operate as a satellite emergency facility of Baystate Wing Hospital. Patients will get the same level of 24-hour emergency care delivered by the same caregivers. Those who need to be admitted for hospital care will be transported to Baystate Wing, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, or another appropriate medical facility depending on their care needs. The Ware facility will be known as the Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center. “We appreciate the Public Health Council’s recognition that this transition is an important step toward providing the best possible quality and value in services for the communities we serve,” said Michael Moran, president and chief administrative officer for the Baystate Health Eastern Region. “Our priority now is to work to ensure that the transition goes smoothly, and to continue to engage our local community on the many health issues that we face together. Baystate Mary Lane will continue to play a vibrant role in improving health in our communities.” Patients should not expect any disruptions in services related to the transition, and may call their doctor’s office if they have any questions about the effect of the change on any scheduled appointments.

AIC Granted Reaffirmation of Accreditation

SPRINGFIELD — American International College (AIC) has been granted reaffirmation of accreditation of business and management programs offered through its schools of Business, Arts, and Sciences and the School of Graduate and Adult Education by the board of commissioners of the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). The IACBE is nationally recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and is a leader in mission-driven and outcomes-based programmatic accreditation in business and management education for student-centered colleges, universities, and other higher-education institutions throughout the world, The IACBE has hundreds of member institutions and campuses worldwide and has accredited more than 1,300 business and business-related programs in the U.S., Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Central America, and South America. According to the IACBE, “the School of Business, Arts, and Sciences and the School of Graduate and Adult Education at American International College have undertaken a rigorous self-evaluation, have undergone a comprehensive independent peer review, and have demonstrated compliance with the following nine accreditation principals of the IACBE: outcome assessment, strategic planning, curriculum, faculty, scholarly and professional activities, resources, internal and external relationships, international business education, and educational innovation.” In addition, the organization noted that AIC’s School of Business, Arts, and Sciences and the School of Graduate and Adult Education “have demonstrated a commitment to continuous improvement, excellence in business education, and advancing academic quality in their business programs and operations.”

ILI Earns Highest Ranking from Accreditation Authority

NORTHAMPTON — The Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) has certified the International Language Institute (ILI) of Massachusetts through 2021. This five-year accreditation is the highest level bestowed by ACCET, which since 1978 has been officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a reliable authority regarding the quality of education and training provided by the institutions that ACCET accredits. ACCET first accredited ILI in 1984, and has continued its recognition of the school’s excellence since then. “We are proud to earn ACCET’s highest accreditation,” said Eric Wirth, ILI board president. “It underscores the extraordinary creativity and dedication of our teachers and administrative staff. And ACCET accreditation helps assure prospective students from around the world and right here in Western Massachusetts that they will receive top-notch service.” Operating for 32 years, ILI is a nonprofit language school in Northampton that partners with 12 colleges and universities (locally, Bay Path University, Elms College, Greenfield Community College, Springfield College, Western New England University, Westfield State University, and UMass Amherst graduate school) to teach academic English skills to international students planning on enrolling at these schools. The school also trains instructors in effective ways to teach English to non-English speakers in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, ILI offers French, German, Italian, and Spanish courses for English speakers who travel for pleasure and business or “who simply want to learn another language,” said ILI Executive Director Caroline Gear. “We are especially proud of our free English classes for refugees and immigrants,” she added. “For more than 30 years, these classes have helped change lives thanks to support from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the generosity of hundreds of local businesses and individual donors.” ACCET personnel paid a site visit to ILI in July and completed extensive research as part of the accreditation process. Among the strengths pointed out in the ACCET assessment are ILI’s professional relationships within the Northampton community; the school’s short- and long-term business plans; the extensive tenure of ILI faculty and staff, which results in a collaborative environment that supports out-of-the-box thinking; student-centered classes, including free English classes for refugees and immigrants; the school’s exemplary teaching and the teachers’ qualifications that exceed ACCET requirements; and the fact that students enjoy their time at ILI and are making significant progress in language development.

Aegis Energy Services Announces Strategic Alliance with Yanmar

HOLYOKE — Aegis Energy Services Inc., a provider of co-generation technology, announced a strategic alliance with Yanmar, a 100-year-old Japanese diesel engine and equipment manufacturer and cogeneration provider. The Aegis and Yanmar relationship will broaden the reach of combined heat and power (CHP) systems by offering a wider product line to serve facilities of all sizes — from hotels, hospitals, and residential buildings with large footprints to smaller facilities, including nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, apartment complexes, boutique hotels, restaurants, and more. “For more than 30 years, Aegis has designed, manufactured, and installed combined heat and power systems equipped with world-class remote monitoring and service across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic,” said Aegis President Lee Vardakas. “The alliance with Yanmar not only increases our CHP product offerings, but our geographic reach. Together, we can provide modular systems for facilities of any size to generate sustainable, clean power options that reduce energy costs and emissions on a wider scale.” According to the U.S. Energy Department, CHP captures energy that would normally be lost in power generation and uses it to provide heating and cooling, making CHP 75% to 80% percent efficient. While most central power plants create steam as a byproduct that is then expelled as wasted heat, a CHP system captures the thermal energy that would normally be lost in power generation and uses it to provide on-site heating and cooling to factories, multi-residential housing and hospitality facilities, breweries, athletic facilities, and other applications requiring thermal load. In 2012, legislation was enacted which set a national goal for increasing CHP capacity. “Aegis has already demonstrated a commitment to Yanmar’s cogeneration product line by successfully completing our training courses designed for these systems,” said Arne Irwin, Energy Systems Business Unit manager at Yanmar America. “They will be able to provide a high level of service in their market for Yanmar’s CHP products.”

OMG Roofing Opens Two New Warehouses

AGAWAM — To support its goal of accelerating international sales growth in Asia and Europe, OMG Roofing Products has established new warehouses in Rotterdam in the Netherlands as well as in Shanghai, China. The two new warehouses are centrally located within their regions to enable OMG to rapidly supply products to roofing contractors and OEM partners in each of these critical markets. Both warehouses will stock a wide range of products sold locally, including OMG fasteners and plates, RhinoBond tools and plates, OMG telescopic tubes, OlyBond500 insulation adhesives, OlyFlow drains, and EverSeal roof repair tape. “OMG Roofing Products has continued to grow and expand beyond U.S. borders,” said Web Shaffer, vice president of Marketing. “By adding these warehouses, we are building a stronger foundation on which to accelerate our international growth by improving our service and expanding our distribution into new countries throughout Europe and Asia.”

Berkshire Bank Named a Top Charitable Contributor

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank announced it was named by Boston Business Journal as one of Massachusetts’ Most Charitable Companies at the publication’s annual Corporate Citizenship Summit in Boston on Sept. 8. The Boston Business Journal is one of the leading sources for business news, research, and events in the Greater Boston area. Each year it honors a select list of companies for their charitable work in the community. Berkshire Bank ranked 42nd for total financial contributions, with more than $1.27 million donated in Massachusetts alone and more than $2 million donated overall. Massachusetts-based bank employees also donated more than 27,000 hours of volunteer service. Berkshire Bank joined a select list of statewide, national, and international companies honored at the summit. The award recognized Berkshire Bank and Berkshire Bank Foundation’s philanthropic investments in the community through their charitable grants, corporate giving, scholarships, in-kind donations, and employee volunteerism. Annually, Berkshire Bank and Berkshire Bank Foundation provide more than $2 million to community organizations, as well as scholarships to high-school seniors with a record of academic excellence and financial need. In addition to financial support, XTEAM, the bank’s employee-volunteer program, provides employees with paid time off to volunteer during regular business hours. In 2015, more than 70% of Berkshire Bank’s employees donated over 40,000 hours of service to benefit community organizations across the bank’s service area.

Inspired Marketing Gains WBENC Certification

SPRINGFIELD — Inspired Marketing Inc. announced it has been certified as a woman-owned business by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and also announced several promotions and hires in the company. “This designation is something I have longed to receive, and this year was thrilled to have accomplished the goal,” said Jill Monson-Bishop, chief inspiration officer. “I am even prouder of this certification because I have incredible women on my team who celebrate it with me.”

Berkshire Theatre Group Receives $29,000 Grant

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Theatre Group announced it is the recipient of a $29,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Investment Portfolio (CIP), which provides unrestricted general operating support grants and project support grants to nonprofit organizations that provide public programs in the arts, sciences, and humanities in Massachusetts. “We’re deeply thankful for the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s CIP grant to BTG. As ticket sales only cover half of our expenses, outside funding is vital to maintain our educational and transformative programs and productions. We are grateful that the MCC supports the valuable work we do.” The CIP recognizes that organizations with an established record of programmatic service and administrative stability should have access to funds to support their organizational goals and objectives, and to maintain their ongoing programs, services, and facilities without special emphasis on new initiatives as justification for funding.

Springfield College Rises Again in U.S. News Rankings

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield College has again moved up the list of highest-ranked colleges in U.S. News & World Report’s latest edition of “Best Colleges.” In the 2017 report, Springfield College is ranked 27th in the first tier in the category of Best Regional Universities – North. This marks the sixth consecutive year that Springfield College has moved up in the U.S. News rankings. This year’s ranking of the college is up two spots from 2016 and 40 spots from 2011. “I am extremely proud that Springfield College is being recognized for our outstanding academic offerings and a rich co-curricular life outside of the classroom,” said President Mary-Beth Cooper. “The rise in our ranking over the past six years demonstrates that the value proposition for a school like Springfield College, grounded in the Humanics philosophy, is well-regarded.” The college also ranked 12th in Best Value Schools for Regional Universities – North, the first year it has been listed in the Best Values category, which takes into account a college’s academic quality and net cost of attendance. According to U.S. News, the higher the quality of the program and the lower the cost, the better the deal Springfield College’s rise in the rankings is spurred by improved graduation rates and improved retention of first-year students. The college’s traditional, undergraduate enrollment for the fall of 2016 remained steady, with 550 first-year students enrolling again this year. The ratings are based on such variables as peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, student selectivity, class size, alumni giving, and student-faculty ratio. The college was ranked in a third category by U.S. News for 2017. It is ranked 14th in the North region in Best Colleges for Veterans.

Features

Moving Beyond the Heavy Lifting

CEO John Maguire

CEO John Maguire says Friendly’s has achieved its first real mission — to once again be competitive in the marketplace.

As he talked with BusinessWest  roughly four years ago, soon after assuming the title of president and CEO, John Maguire said his assignment, while complex in nature, came down to two simple words: fixing Friendly’s.

There were, of course, many things that needed to be fixed, and Maguire, then, as now, summed them all up by reciting comments attributed to a woman from New Jersey who was part of a focus group assigned the task of gaining valuable input concerning the restaurant chain, its food, and service. Yes, he knows the passage by heart, because he’s lost track of how many times he’s quoted it.

“She said very eloquently, ‘the problem with Friendly’s is … your people aren’t friendly, your food is mediocre, your restaurants are dirty, and you don’t fix things when they break,’” he noted. “And that was all you needed to know to sum up what had happened to the brand.”

To make a long, four-year story much shorter, the menu has been simplified, the food has been upgraded from mediocre, the restaurants have been cleaned and renovated, and perhaps, most importantly, the people are, indeed, friendly. (If they’re not, they don’t work there for long, if at all.)

Despite all this, Maguire isn’t remotely ready to retire the present tense as he talks about what is still his assignment. Indeed, he is most definitely still fixing Friendly’s. But sufficient progress has been made now for him to summon the phrase “we’re competitive now,” and he did so quite often. The implication was clear; for years, this chain that was started in Springfield in 1935 and has been a part of the landscape ever since, wasn’t competitive.

“You never say that work is done — that’s not how it is with brands; fixing and improving is a continuum,” he explained. “But we are competitive in the marketplace once again, and we’re taking market share from other restaurants.”

The work to achieve competitiveness was described as the “heavy lifting” by Maguire, who was quick to add, however, that there is still plenty of that to do.

And the company will use the capital gained from the sale several months ago of its large and quite successful manufacturing division to Dean Foods to continue to move the needle in the right direction.

Initiatives include everything from new restaurants to continued renovations of existing venues, to the installation of drive-thru facilities at some locations where infrastructure permits it.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Maguire about the progress that’s been recorded at Friendly’s and the considerable work still to do to return the chain to the prominence it once enjoyed.

Recipe for Success

Retracing the steps that led to the sale of the manufacturing division, what he called a “powerful transaction,” Maguire said that in some ways it was a difficult decision to make. After all, the unit had been enjoying steady growth, and was, in some respects, the top-performing business within the company.

But this strong track record is also what made it quite attractive to the many large companies that dominate that realm and have been searching for additional, and potential-laden, growth opportunities.

So, with a need for additional capital, Friendly’s leaders eventually saw the sale of that division as a means to an end.

“As I looked at the total business, we had this gem called the retail and manufacturing business,” he told BusinessWest. “The first year I was there, we grew the business maybe 45% and launched our novelty business as well. What became evident to us fairly quickly was that we could use the growth from that business to give us the capital, but also the time and the space, to do the things we needed to do on the restaurant side.

Friendly’s

Giving restaurants a new look and feel and has been one of the primary missions at Friendly’s.

“So we put a full focus on that division, and as a result of those efforts, four years later, we ended up with a business that had grown more than 105% over that time,” he went on. “We were in more than 9,000 grocery stores, we were in 49 states, and had really a national footprint.”

The question then became what to do with this tremendous asset, he went on, adding that one option was to expand it, perhaps by opening one or more new plants in different parts of the country. The other was, as they say in business, to ‘sell high.’

It was decided to canvas the market to see if there was any interest in it. The response was overwhelming, to say the least.

“We were blown away by the response we got, both from private-equity companies and the ‘strategics,’ the people who were in the ice-cream business,” he explained. “We got back such a response that we believed that what made the best sense was exiting that retail and manufacturing business.”

John Maguire said one of the needed steps is his efforts to ‘fix Friendly’s’ was to revise and simplify the menu.

John Maguire said one of the needed steps is his efforts to ‘fix Friendly’s’ was to revise and simplify the menu.

The company will buy all its products from Dean, which acquired the division for $165 million, while continuing to own the recipes and setting the standards for quality, said Maguire, adding that Dean has made it clear it has no intention of moving the operation from Wilbraham or downsizing that workforce. In fact, it has plans to grow the division and expand those facilities.

Meanwhile, the transaction allowed the company to retire debt on the restaurant side and continue to gain momentum in the drive to make the restaurant side not only competitive, but a sector leader, and, in the process of doing all that, change the narrative from people like that woman from New Jersey.

“We went to work on solving those issues she cited,” he said. “We made improvements with our people, for example; if you weren’t friendly, you couldn’t stay; if you didn’t want to take care of kids and families, you couldn’t stay; if you didn’t really want to be in the service business, you couldn’t stay; if you were a manager and you couldn’t be accountable for the results and deliver on the things we needed to deliver on, you couldn’t stay.”

But weeding out those who couldn’t provide the desired experience was just part of the equation, he went on, adding that a bigger piece was making the necessary investments in training so they could provide it.

If people were part 1 of the broad assignment to fix Friendly’s, then food, or improving it, to be more precise, was part 2.

“The food was mediocre,” said Maguire. “Over the years, Friendly’s had cut costs and stopped investing in food. We reduced portion sizes and cut back on the quality of the ingredients.”

So the company went back to fresh beef in its burgers, real ice cream in its shakes, haddock in the fish sandwiches, and extra large eggs and better bacon at breakfast. Just as importantly, it removed from the menu items that didn’t sell or that Friendly’s had no “credibility in serving,” as he put it — the ‘chicken-and-shrimp stir frys’ of this world.

Just Desserts

Such improvements were both needed and quite timely, said Maguire, a food-industry veteran who has a turn-around effort at Panera Bread at the top of his résumé’s list of accomplishments, adding that the burger and ice-cream business is flourishing, despite what amounts to rumors to the contrary.

“I know everyone talks about eating healthy, but there’s not much real evidence of that,” he said, adding that this assessment is buffeted by the strong performance recently of chains such as Five Guys, Steak ’n Shake, Dairy Queen and its ‘Grill & Chill’ concept, and relative newcomers such as Shake Shack. “The truth of the matter is, if you have a compelling product in the burger and ice-cream segment, you can be pretty darn successful.”

In most ways, Friendly’s is qualified to use that word ‘compelling,’ he went on, adding, again, that food is just part of the equation, and this brings him to what would be considered the third leg of the stool regarding the company’s return to competitiveness — the restaurants themselves.

Looking back only a few years, he said that woman from New Jersey was right on the money with her assessment.

“Our restaurants were, quite frankly, in deplorable shape; they hadn’t been remodeled in 12 to 15 years on average, and when things broke, we didn’t fix them,” he explained, adding that the company has made needed improvements and has remodeled 95% of the 130 company-owned locations, with the rest slated for work over the next 12 months. There are 130 more restaurants that are franchised; 60% of those have been remodeled, and the company has received commitments for the rest to be done by the end of 2017.

Add all that up, and the result is that measure of competiveness Maguire mentioned. And now that Friendly’s is competitive, it can do the things it needs to do to grow the brand, he told BusinessWest.

“Now that we’re competitive, the real work begins,” he explained. “Now, it’s about showing not only that Friendly’s can be viable — which I would say it can be — but that it can be a growth vehicle. And there’s a big difference between the two.”

Growth will come from improving the average unit volume of each location, or simply bringing more people to those sites, he said, adding that, while all the initiatives taken above are part of that equation, additional steps are being taken.

These include the addition of drive-thru windows, he said, adding that this additional convenience has proven its worth for countless other brands. And while Friendly’s doesn’t exactly fit the description of fast food, Maguire noted that it gets food to the drive-thru customer within four or five minutes on average.

“We’ve begun to retrofit some of our locations for drive-thrus,” he said, noting that the location in Westfield was the first to be done over, and six have been completed to date. “And those drive-thrus are seeing a 25% lift in sales volume.”

The company plans to be aggressive in this realm and add another 25 to 50 such retrofits in the coming years, with the goal of having one-third of the locations equipped with them.

Meanwhile, the company continues to expand with new locations, including one at Logan Airport, another in Merrimack, N.H., and two more in Southern New Jersey, with more planned for next year.

Shaking Things Up

If you visit a Friendly’s location, you won’t see a picture of that focus-group participant from New Jersey on the wall.

Still, Maguire gives her ample credit for the company’s turnaround efforts and return to competitiveness. In fact, he even called her “wise” as he relayed her sentiments, or previous sentiments, to be more accurate.

Making those observations dated constituted the ‘heavy lifting,’ as Maguire called it, in his efforts to change the company’s fortunes, and now the real work has commenced to become into an instrument of growth.

As happened in individual locations, Friendly’s has fixed what became broken — its brand. Actually, it’s still fixing it, because, as Maguire noted, such work is a continuum, and it’s never really done.

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

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Aegis Energy Services Inc., a provider of co-generation technology, announced a strategic alliance with Yanmar, a 100-year-old Japanese diesel engine and equipment manufacturer and cogeneration provider.

The Aegis and Yanmar relationship will broaden the reach of combined heat and power (CHP) systems by offering a wider product line to serve facilities of all sizes — from hotels, hospitals, and residential buildings with large footprints to smaller facilities, including nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, apartment complexes, boutique hotels, restaurants, and more.

“For more than 30 years, Aegis has designed, manufactured, and installed combined heat and power systems equipped with world-class remote monitoring and service across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic,” said Aegis President Lee Vardakas. “The alliance with Yanmar not only increases our CHP product offerings, but our geographic reach. Together, we can provide modular systems for facilities of any size to generate sustainable, clean power options that reduce energy costs and emissions on a wider scale.”

According to the U.S. Energy Department, CHP captures energy that would normally be lost in power generation and uses it to provide heating and cooling, making CHP 75% to 80% percent efficient. While most central power plants create steam as a byproduct that is then expelled as wasted heat, a CHP system captures the thermal energy that would normally be lost in power generation and uses it to provide on-site heating and cooling to factories, multi-residential housing and hospitality facilities, breweries, athletic facilities, and other applications requiring thermal load. In 2012, legislation was enacted which set a national goal for increasing CHP capacity.

“Aegis has already demonstrated a commitment to Yanmar’s cogeneration product line by successfully completing our training courses designed for these systems,” said Arne Irwin, Energy Systems Business Unit manager at Yanmar America. “They will be able to provide a high level of service in their market for Yanmar’s CHP products.”

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

By Kathleen Mitchell

Mayor William Reichelt

Mayor William Reichelt says the $6 million Fathers & Sons auto dealership under construction on Memorial Drive will enhance the commercial corridor.

Mayor William Reichelt says West Springfield is a small town that in many ways assumes the character of a city, due in part to the popular retail establishments — stores and restaurants — that line its two main commercial corridors, Riverdale Street and Memorial Avenue.

Indeed, the traffic that passes along these stretches each day makes them such an ideal location that little commercial space remains. When parcels do become available, they move quickly, and right now, more than $34 million in new construction is underway along the two thoroughfares.

But that economic development has been balanced by efforts initiated by the new mayor: Reichelt, a member of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty Class of 2016, took office in January and has already streamlined the permitting process and formed new committees and task forces to ensure that the zoning is appropriate, traffic flow does not affect residential neighborhoods, and blighted properties are addressed.

“West Springfield is easy to get to for people coming from the north, south, east, and west, and we have become a cut-through community, so we’re trying to improve the quality of life for our businesses and residents,” he said, noting that the town’s roadways connect Springfield to Agawam; Westfield to Springfield and points farther south; and provide access to Riverdale Street and Springfield for residents of the hill towns.

Reconstruction of the Memorial Avenue rotary on the West Springfield side of the Memorial Bridge, which contains two overpasses on Route 5 to the north and south, was recently completed by the state Department of Transportation under its Accelerated Bridge Program.

It’s an important gateway, which is matched by another one to and from Agawam at the end of the 1.7 mile strip, and last year the town signed a contract with Greenman-Pederson Inc. to create a design that incorporates principles of the Complete Streets program and will accommodate the increased traffic flow expected to occur when the MGM Casino in Springfield is finished.

“Memorial Avenue is expected to become a pinnacle of the Complete Streets plan,” Reichelt told BusinessWest, adding that the Big E is also studying the traffic flow through its property, and efforts will be made to ensure that any work that is done meshes together well.

The cost estimate for the Complete Streets project, which includes repaving the corridor, adding a two-lane bicycle path, updating utilities, and adding new landscaping, is estimated at $15 million, and since it’s more than the town and MassWorks can pay for, officials are hoping the Transportation Infrastructure Program will help fund the project.

“Memorial Avenue is the first view people have of West Springfield when they cross the Memorial Bridge, and we want to make it more attractive,” Reichelt said, noting that two major multi-million-dollar projects are underway along the commercial strip that will further enhance its desirability and likely spark investments by other businesses.

For this, the latest installment in its Community Profile series, BusinessWest looks at what is going on in West Side and the measures being taken to strike a balance between commercial growth and the needs of the town’s residents.

Major Investments

Reichelt said Fathers & Sons is building a new $6 million, 50,000-square-foot Audi and Volkswagen automotive sales showroom and service center on Memorial Avenue. The company’s former Volkswagen showroom and Kia of West Springfield, which it had closed earlier, were demolished to make way for the new facility, which will include two large showrooms and a 23-bay, state-of-the art service area and waiting room with flat-screen TVs, leather couches, and Internet access.

The company expects the new service area to increase efficiency and reduce customer waiting time, and notes that the new Audi store will free up space at the Fathers & Sons dealership on 989 Memorial Ave., which will sell and service Volvo vehicles exclusively once the new facility opens.

The town has never undertaken a comprehensive review of its zoning, and we want to make traffic flow and the use of property in our commercial areas harmonious with the rest of the town.”

The project is expected to create 20 new jobs, and Reichelt noted that the city approved a five-year tax-increment-financing deal with Cartelli Realty LLC, which owns the Fathers & Sons site. It will provide limited tax breaks on the so-called growth portion of the assessed valuation of the property at 434 Memorial Ave., and town officials hope it will help enhance the corridor’s desirability.

“The new dealerships will bring more business to Memorial Avenue, and we hope it will help it to become the new Riverdale Street. Everyone wants to move their business there (Riverdale Street) because it gets so much traffic, but space along that corridor is expensive,” Reichelt said.

Work is also underway on the grounds of the former St. Ann’s Church, which was sold to the Colvest Group by the Diocese of Springfield about four years ago.

Colvest President Frank Colaccino said the company acquired and combined three parcels, which include the church property, the Bridge Street road closure, and a parking lot behind Clark Paint Factory on 966 Union St., and created a plan to build a one-story, 9,000-square-foot retail structure on the 1.5-acre site that has been approved.

Currently, utility lines on the property are being relocated, work that must be finished before construction can begin.

“It will be a good addition,”Colaccino said. “West Springfield is a great town which is well-perceived; and the new mayor is very capable and gets an A+.”

Colvest recently signed a lease with Florence Bank, which will become the anchor tenant in the new building. The new bank branch will have a drive-through window and ATM, and its current West Springfield offices will be moved into the structure when it is finished.

But it has taken years to ready the site for construction. “The church property was contaminated when we purchased it. The diocese was responsible for cleaning it up, and it has been a process to get it ready for a new building,” Colaccino said, adding that the company is in negotiations with several businesses interested in occupying the 65% of the building that Florence Bank does not need.

“It’s nice to see the church property being reused for a commercial purpose,” Reichelt said, adding that traffic along the roadway is also driven by the Big E, which attracts thousands of visitors every year and can help spur continued growth.

However, new investments are ongoing. McDonald’s held a ribbon-cutting ceremony several weeks ago to celebrate a complete renovation of its 429 Memorial Ave. eatery; and a Chipotle Mexican Grill is in the permitting process and hopes to open next summer in the former home of Jiffy Lube, which moved into a new facility on 788 Memorial Ave.

Growth is also occurring on Riverdale Street, where a new four-story hotel with 92 rooms is in the permitting stage; and scattered improvements are being made throughout the community. The Food Bag on 884 Westfield St. is being remodeled; Arrha Credit Union recently opened on 63 Park Ave. in the former home of Springfield Teacher’s Credit Union; and plans submitted to knock down the Cumberland Farms on Park Avenue and built a new one have been approved.

Helpful Measures

The town is rife with private investments, and Reichelt is doing his part to facilitate balanced growth; he immediately began taking action to address issues and areas of concern after he was sworn into office earlier this year.

He told BusinessWest that he heard complaints from some business owners about the length of time it took to navigate the permitting process, so in April he kicked off a new program. Today, meetings are held on the first and third Mondays of the month, and business owners and developers meet with a team that includes the mayor, the chair of the planning board, and 11 department heads, which helps iron out difficulties and streamlines the process.

A new, 13-member Zoning Review Committee is also being formed to take a close look at West Springfield’s zoning as well as the zoning in a variety of communities across the state. The group will begin meeting in September and will determine what needs to be done to facilitate growth, while protecting the quality of life in residential neighborhoods.

“The town has never undertaken a comprehensive review of its zoning, and we want to make traffic flow and the use of property in our commercial areas harmonious with the rest of the town,” Reichelt said, adding that the committee will also look at pedestrian crossings to make sure residents are safe.

He noted that to that end, the entire lighting pattern at the intersection of Park and Elm streets was revamped after the 2011 tornado, and new pedestrian crossways were added.

A Blight Task Force has also been formed to deal with the 100 or more vacant or derelict properties in town. Members include the building inspector, two health inspectors, and the town attorney; who take calls from residents in a centralized location about sites that need to be addressed. The mayor told BusinessWest that since the task force was formed, four homes have gone into receivership and three are being rebuilt.

In addition, action is being taken at the former Standard Plating Co. on 964 Main St., which has been vacant since 2011 when it was ravaged by the tornado that swept through the area.

The city worked with the owner to remove contamination at the brownfields site, which is within walking distance of the Memorial Avenue rotary. The building has been razed, and when the environmental cleanup is complete, the Redevelopment Authority will take possession and build a new commercial structure there.

West Springfield also plans to apply for a $1.5 million MassWorks grant for a new pumping station and an extension of the sewer lines along Route 5.

“There are five properties near the river, including a large car dealership, that have septic systems right now,” Reichelt said, noting that the pumping station was built when Riverdale Plaza consisted of a drive-in movie theater and airport, and the area occupied by Costco was farmland.

He added that Agri Mark on Riverdale Road is also building a new processing plant. “They’re making a $10 million investment in West Springfield,” the mayor said.

Continued Progress

Although a significant amount of new construction is taking place in West Springfield, balance is critical to the town’s future.

“If you leave the business corridors, you find neighborhoods and two schools in the Merrick section of town,” Reichelt told BusinessWest. “Union and Main streets are walkable areas that contain small businesses, and as you move up the hill you encounter the residential subdivisions that have grown up over the past 20 to 30 years.

“There are a lot of commercial projects underway, and we benefit from being the crossroads of New England, but the town is also a great place to live,” he said. “We’re community-oriented and have active groups that range from the Tree Committee to the Garden Club, so we are careful not to forget about our residents.”

Which makes West Springfield far more than an address for the Big E and two busy commercial strips that have become a destination due to the large number of retail establishments and eateries that flourish there.

It’s also a community that residents and businesses alike love to call ‘home.’

West Springfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1774
Population: 28,391 (2014)
Area: 17.49 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $16.99
Commercial Tax Rate: $22.21
Median Household Income: $54,434
Family Household Income: $63,940
Type of government: Mayor; Town Council
Largest employers: Eversource Energy; Harris Corp.; Home Depot; Interim Health Care; Mercy Home Care
* Latest information available

Business of Aging Sections

Parental Guidance Suggested

Natalie, a Springfield mother

Natalie, a Springfield mother, is one of two women featured on murals for the “You’re the Mom” campaign.

Here’s a whopper of a statistic: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of U.S. kids eat fast food every day.

But they’re not, for the most part, buying it for themselves; parents are making those choices.

That’s the issue that “You’re the Mom,” a new public-health campaign launched by ChildObesity180 at Tufts University, seeks to address. The campaign offers an array of messaging through various media, with one goal: get mothers thinking about the nutritional choices they’re making for their kids, and hopefully make better ones.

“We’re looking to increase the supply of healthier menu options for kids and create more consumer demand for those options,” said Linda Harelick, director of operations and communications at ChildObesity180. “We have engaged the restaurant industry and restaurant brands, and we’ve learned that there have been changes to menu options. Things have gotten healthier in the fast-food setting.”

However, she went on, “parents aren’t always aware of it. They get into the habit of ordering the number 7, or have their kids order a couple items off the dollar menu. Nobody’s studying the menu. We want to make them aware there are healthier options to choose from.”

In short, she explained, “we want to celebrate moms for the people they are and the role they play in families and communities — and give them simple tips.”

Harelick knows the issue is a complicated one, especially in a city with many low-income families living in neighborhoods underserved by stores selling fresh produce and other healthy options — a problem echoed by Kristine Allard, vice president of development for Springfield-based early-education provider Square One.

We want to celebrate moms for the people they are and the role they play in families and communities — and give them simple tips.”

“Particularly here in Springfield, where so many neighborhoods struggle with being part of a food desert, we know it’s not always easy to access good, healthy choices, and some families make fast foods their only option,” Allard told BusinessWest.

For families on a budget — often living near the poverty line — a visit to a fast-food drive-thru is often an exercise in filling up their children quickly at little expense, she went on. “But if we can make changes to what they order — swapping water for soda, ordering apple slices instead of fries, downsizing, not supersizing — that can make a big difference.”

She’s under no illusion that fast food is the best option for kids, “but if we can make small changes — and, in the long term, they make smarter choices — we can help reduce childhood obesity. It just makes sense.”

Square One is among a number of local organizations, including Partners for a Healthier Community and Springfield Food Policy Council, that are partnering with ChildObesity180 on the campaign, which is being piloted in the City of Homes, with plans to roll it out nationally in 2017.

Harelick recognizes that too few parents are immune to the combined pressures of packed schedules and picky kids bombarded with marketing for less-healthy options. But she believes the “You’re the Mom” campaign can make a difference, one choice at a time.

The campaign includes billboards, radio spots, bus advertisements, a heavy social-media presence (its hub is yourethemom.org), and murals by artist Marka27 — at 1072 State St. and 461 Main St. — featuring real Springfield mothers and promoting the message, “you’re the mom; you make decisions about what your kids eat,” Harelick explained.

The issue is nothing new to Partners for a Healthier Community (PHC), which joined several other community organizations eight years ago to launch Live Well Springfield, a movement to promote physical activity in area youth and increase access to healthy foods, a two-pronged approach to slowing a trend that has seen childhood-obesity rates triple nationwide and locally over the past few decades.

“What Tufts is doing is implementing a communications campaign that is very specific to low-income families with children who frequently eat at fast-food restaurants,” said Jessica Collins, PHC president. “If you have to eat at McDonald’s, make a healthier choice for your kid. Don’t buy soda; get water or milk. Give up the fries and choose apple slices. It’s another strategy to educate parents.”

Menu of Programs

Since its inception, Harelick explained, Child Obesity180 has brought in public-health advocates, industry and government leaders, and other nonprofits to design, pilot, evaluate, and scale initiatives intended to reverse the trend of childhood obesity — a full 180 degrees, in other words — within one generation’s time.

“We have very aggressive goals,” she admitted.

To get there, the organization has taken a multi-pronged approach. Among its initiatives:

• Its Active Schools Acceleration Project aims to increase physical activity in U.S. schools by identifying innovative solutions and giving schools the tools and resources needed to replicate proven models. For example, the New Balance Foundation Billion Mile Race has challenged students to walk and run 1 billion miles. “Five thousand-plus schools are participating in the campaign, driving excitement and interest in walking and running programs,” Harelick said.

• The Healthy Kids Out of School initiative works with afterschool enrichment organizations, like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H, and youth sports leagues, to promote three principles: drink right, move more, and snack smart.

“Kids are eating more junk food than they need and not moving as much as they should, even in youth sports,” she noted. “We found if we communicated these three simple principles, we could have an impact. It’s been very well-received by the CEOs of these organizations.

“What we have learned is, we have to tie into the organizations’ values and practices,” she went on. “Scouts are looking to develop future leaders, and to be a future leader, you have to develop a healthy lifestyle. We developed a special healthy-habits patch for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and developed a short online training for sports coaches.”

• The Restaurant Initiative, which is where “You’re the Mom” fits in, takes a three-pronged approach to reduce excess calorie consumption when children eat at restaurants: Increase consumer demand for healthier children’s meals, inform restaurant-industry leaders of the positive outcomes of increasing healthy menu offerings, and continue to conduct and disseminate original research.

• Another effort, the Breakfast Initiative — which promoted a healthy school breakfast and evaluated its impact on several key measures for children, including obesity prevention — completed its work in 2014.

That’s an area Square One knows something about, said Allard, who noted that many of ChildObesity180’s programs fit well into Square One’s mission of promoting well-being in children — not just academically, but physically and emotionally as well.

Linda Harelick

Linda Harelick says restaurant menus have gotten healthier and nutrition labeling has improved, but parents aren’t always aware of these changes.

“We know that kids who are well-nourished do well in school, so helping in a campaign like this, helping moms make healthy choices for their kids, is very much in alignment with our mission,” she explained. “Teaching kids to read, write, and be ready for kindergarten and academic success are very important, but we know there are so many more pieces than simply handing them a book.

“For many kids in our program,” she went on, “we provide two meals a day — breakfast, lunch, and two snacks — so we know they’re getting those meals with us, and we make sure they’re balanced and nutritious. But when they go home, they don’t always have those types of options. Access is the issue here, and budget is a challenge.”

Likewise, Partners for a Healthier Community, through the Live Well Springfield collective, has been trying to enhance school nutrition, from the preschool sector on up; make higher-quality foods, especially fruits and vegetables, more available in the city’s neighborhoods; and enhance urban agriculture and community gardens.

Live Well Springfield has also partnered with the city and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission on improving area riverwalks, and has a hand in the city’s Complete Streets program, which is putting more sidewalks and bike lanes on streets. “People have to move around, basically,” Collins said. “That’s a national best practice cities are trying to do.”

Food for Thought

Harelick welcomes the partnerships with organizations like PHC and Square One. “We call ourselves a multi-sector organization,” she told BusinessWest. “We believe childhood obesity is an issue that can only be solved if everyone participates.”

In the case of “You’re the Mom,” which admittedly takes a narrow focus, “we saw an opportunity to address the issue of kids consuming excess calories in restaurants and at the same time improve the nutritional quality of selected meals,” said Christina Economos, director of ChildObesity180. “Moms have an enormous amount of influence on their kids, but sometimes they don’t feel that way. We want to support them and remind them that making small changes can add up to a meaningful difference in their children’s health.”

Harelick has significant experience in several sectors that are part of ChildObesity180. After an early career as a registered dietitian, practicing in clinical and research settings at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, she spent 17 years at Kraft Foods, overseeing strategic planning and marketing for iconic brands such as Maxwell House coffee and Post cereal. Upon leaving Kraft in 2008, she returned to academia to earn a doctorate in public health policy and management.

Having taken so many different views of the nutrition issue, Harelick is optimistic that her current organization’s goal — a full ‘180’ on childhood obesity — is within reach.

“We really believe that,” she said. “When we look at the problem of obesity, it seems very complex, but very interconnected. If you can influence one aspect of a child’s life, it has a wave effect on other aspects. And the more kids hear these messages, the greater the influence — it’s an echo effect.”

Beyond that, she said, “if we can impact culture in terms of the restaurant industry, convince them to offer lower-calorie foods, more nutritional quality, they’ll become societal norms for kids. It will become the norm to drink water on the basketball court, baseball field, or restaurant.”

Leaders at Square One — which, beyond its emphasis on healthy meals, offers an after-school physical fitness program called LAUNCH — say the work of ChildObesity180, and its new campaign, are effective complements to what’s already happening locally. “Our LAUNCH program is a health and wellness program for kids,” Allard said, “teaching them that fitness is fun, and that healthy eating can be fun and delicious.”

Just as Square One moves beyond talking about nutrition and fitness and actually provides opportunities for both, so Partners for a Healthier Community continues working toward greater access to healthy foods in the so-called ‘food deserts’ that tend to plague cities.

“The campaign bolsters work we’ve been doing locally, which is create access for families,” Collins said. “We have to start somewhere. It has to be both educating families to make the right decisions and also providing them access; if you just educate people, they’ll turn around and say, ‘but there’s no place to buy something healthy.’ That’s why the other strategies are so critical.”

Still, Harelick said, change begins with education, and she’s confident “You’re the Mom” will prove impactful enough to become a nationwide call.

“By delivering these messages and then reinforcing these practices at home,” she said, “we can really have a snowball effect.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

WESTFIELD — The Rotary Club of Westfield announced the second annual Westfield Food Fest will take place Friday, Aug. 26 through Sunday, Aug. 28. This three-day event will feature vendors from local restaurants and food trucks, as well as entertainment from local musicians.

The Rotary Club hopes this free event will draw people to the downtown area. The event will be held on Elm Street between Franklin Street and Main Street on Aug. 26 from 5 to 9 p.m., Aug. 27 from noon to 9 p.m., and Aug. 28 from noon to 6 p.m. The festival will also be broadcast live on location on WSKB 89.5 FM.

Participating local restaurants include Pasquale’s, Two River Burritos, and Janik’s Pierogis. Food trucks will include Ed & Angies, Sun Kim Bop Korean, Silver Platter Gourmet, Bistro Bus, Moolicious Ice Cream, Angelo’s Fried Dough, and Ed’s Fries. A variety of local artists and craftspeople will be doing interactive, family-friendly demonstrations. The Rotary Club will sell beer and wine. For information on how to become a vendor, e-mail Jennifer Gruszka at [email protected].

Event sponsors include Westfield Bank, Westfield Gas & Electric, Forish Construction, Elm Electrical, Commercial Distributing, Mestek, Sarat Ford, Roger Butler Insurance Agency, Jerome’s Party Plus, and John S. Lane & Son Inc. This event would not be possible without the support of the city of Westfield, the Westfield Police Department, and all other city departments that help make events safe and enjoyable.

For more information, visit facebook.com/westfieldrotaryclub. A complete schedule and listing of vendors, participants, and musicians will be posted soon.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — The Celebrate Holyoke planning committee announced this year’s food vendors set to participate in the three-day festival happening August 26-28. This year’s food vendors include a broad mix of Holyoke restaurants like Sláinte, Fiesta Café, and Capri Pizza, as well as regional favorites like Wheelhouse Farm. A wide variety of mobile food trucks will be set up throughout the weekend as well, including Holyoke Hummus Co., Mothership Gourmet, and Say Cheese grilled-cheese sandwiches.

“We’re pleased to welcome this talented group of local restauranteurs, which all bring something unique and delicious to our festival,” said Jenna Weingarten, executive director for Celebrate Holyoke. “We’re fortunate to have many of our vendors returning from last year, and we’re also really excited for the new food options that are joining us this year that will guarantee there’s something for everyone.”

Guests will be able to purchase food and drinks from the following local establishments: Papa’s Gourmet Hotdogs, Wheelhouse Farm, Nutmeg Concessions, Gateway City Arts, Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, Sláinte, Say Cheese, Holyoke Hummus Co., Mothership Gourmet, Damn Yankees BBQ, Capri Pizza, Jnd Amusements, Fiesta Café, and Silk Deli and Bistro.

Celebrate Holyoke is a three-day festival that made its return last August after a 10-year hiatus, drawing an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people downtown over the course of the weekend. This year’s festival will include live musical performances, foods and beverages from local restaurants, and goods from local artists and crafters. Also back by popular demand is Slide the City, which will take place on Saturday, Aug. 27.

Daily News

AMHERST — In celebration of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the book that launched Eric Carle’s career — Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. —the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is sending the book’s famous characters to the main streets and outdoor spaces of its hometown.

This special pop-up exhibition, “Brown Bear Everywhere,” on view from Aug. 8 through Oct. 10, will bring 14 high-quality reproductions of Carle’s original collage illustrations to some of Amherst’s popular restaurants, schools, and recreational sites. The exhibition helps kick off a year of special events to honor the children’s classic, which is one of the best-selling picture books of all time.

Framed reproductions from Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? will be located at Amherst Commons (White Dog), Bangs Community Center (Purple Cat), Bare Mountain (Brown Bear), Black Sheep Deli (Black Sheep), Fort River Elementary School (Teacher), Hampshire College (Red Bird), High Horse Restaurant (Blue Horse), Hitchcock Center for the Environment (Green Frog), Jones Library (Final Page), Amherst College Mead Art Museum (Endpapers), the Mill District in North Amherst (Original Brown Bear, 1967 edition), Mill River Recreation Area (Goldfish), the Norwottuck Rail Trail (Children), and the UMass Amherst campus pond (Yellow Duck). Labels at each location will provide information about the works of art, the book, and Carle’s artistic process.

“We enjoyed matching each picture in the book to a specific location in Amherst,” said Ellen Keiter, the Carle’s chief curator. “Placing Eric Carle’s Black Sheep at the Black Sheep Deli was an obvious fit, as was displaying his image of a teacher at Fort River Elementary School. Perhaps my favorite is Brown Bear atop Bare Mountain, the highest elevation in Amherst. It seems appropriate that Brown Bear look out over the Valley from this majestic perch.”

Keiter also lauded the town’s enthusiasm for the project. “We’ve spent the last eight months working with the host sites, and the response has been overwhelming. Not a single business or organization turned us down. In fact, each location enthusiastically embraced the project. It’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t know and love the book.”

“Brown Bear Everywhere” kicks off a year-long, nationwide celebration, including “Brown Bear Turns 50!” opening at the Carle on Sept. 13. Support for both exhibitions has been provided by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

Published in 1967, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? had an immediate appeal to children and adults alike. Martin’s rhythmic call-and-response text builds anticipation at each turn of the page, while Carle’s bold graphics and parade of animals encourage learning and imagination. The book has been translated into 31 languages — from Arabic to Vietnamese — and has sold more than 16 million copies. In addition to the original 1967 book, Carle re-illustrated editions in 1970, 1984, and 1992.

In support of both exhibitions, the Carle will launch a special page on its website with Brown Bear teacher activities, photographs, fun facts, and a video of Carle reading the book. An accompanying social-media campaign asks friends to tag the Carle @carlemuseum and submit selfies taken in town with their favorite character using the hashtag #brownbeareverywhere. Selfies will be entered in a weekly drawing to win a Brown Bear anniversary tote bag.

Cover Story

An Appetite for Entrepreneurship

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen has compiled a quarter-century-long track record of entrepreneurial energy and daring — all of it in the broad realms of food and hospitality. He says it exists partly out of necessity in this highly competitive market, but also because he’s always looking for ways to do things differently — and better. His latest venture, which he describes as the cutting edge of food retail, is no exception.

Peter Rosskothen was at a loss for words. Well, sort of, and not for very long, actually.

He was asked to explain, if he could, the origins of, and inspiration for, his very healthy appetite for entrepreneurial ventures — all of them in the broad realms of food and hospitality, ranging from several franchises of a national chain of eateries, to a banquet facility; from coffee shops to an ambitious catering operation.

And, like many who have made the choice to work for themselves instead of someone else, he struggled with that question.

“I’m not really sure how to explain it; it’s always been there, though,” he said of his entrepreneurial drive after pausing for a few moments of reflection, adding that, in many respects, it exists out of necessity in a highly competitive and always-changing marketplace.

“I think we share this belief that you have to always do something a little different, or find a way to do something a little better, to stay in business today, and I’d like to think that this is what drives us,” he said, referring specifically to business partner Michael Corduff and other members of the team that operates his businesses.

He did much better when it came to putting into plain words why he and his partners over the years have been not only so prolific, but so successful.

“Lots of people have ideas,” he explained. “And they’ll talk about these ideas, and talk about them some more. Taking the idea and doing something about it is what makes us entrepreneurs, and that’s what happened last September, when we decided to stop talking about this and do it.”

It’s a scenario that has played itself out several times over the past quarter-century or so, as Rosskothen — by himself or with different partners — has launched Boston Chicken (later Boston Market) franchises; undertaken a massive renovation of the landmark Log Cabin restaurant in Holyoke into a banquet facility; completed several subsequent expansions of that facility, purchased the Delaney House restaurant in Holyoke and, later, the hotel erected adjacent to it; created a catering operation known as Log Rolling; and opened two coffee-and-sandwich shops called Mt. Joe to Go.

And it is playing itself out again with yet another new venture, this one called Delaney’s Market, which is set to open its doors in the Longmeadow Shops in early August. Rosskothen described this as a “retail store for food,” where patrons can grab a container of chicken marsala and accompanying veggies, a fresh loaf of bread, a bottle of wine or a few microbrews, and dessert, and take it all home to enjoy there.

Which means that, like many of the ventures Rosskothen has launched over the years, this one is somewhat unique and cutting-edge when it comes to understanding what the dining public wants and needs.

“There is nothing else like this in our market — nothing,” he explained, adding that various types of operations offer some of the above, to one extent or another, but certainly not all of the above.

BusinessWest as the magazine’s Top Entrepreneurs

Peter Rosskothen and former business partner Larry Perreault were honored by BusinessWest as the magazine’s Top Entrepreneurs for 1997 for their efforts at the Log Cabin.

He said the concept was born from acknowledgment that today’s consumers — and especially the younger generations — want, by and large, food that is fresh, local, healthy, and of high quality. Meanwhile, they also want convenience and help with cramming all that life throws at them into the 24 hours in a day.

Various business operations address some or many of those needs in various ways, said Rosskothen, noting that supermarkets now offer many prepared foods, some ventures will deliver meals to your door (while others will drop off the ingredients and let you cook them), and restaurants, most of which offer takeout, have put a heavy focus on local and healthy.

But extensive research — another common denominator with all of his previous ventures — told Rosskothen there was a desire for, and room for, another — and, in many ways, better — alternative.

“This concept allows people to take it easy and spend more time with their family,” he explained, adding that it represents the best of many worlds — convenience, affordability, variety, and quality.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Rosskothen about his latest venture, but also about entrepreneurship in general and his desire to remain on the cutting edge of innovation within the world of hospitality.

Another Bite at the Apple

As he talked with BusinessWest at a small table outside the Starbucks just a few doors down from his new storefront, Rosskothen gestured with his hand toward the scene in front and on both sides of him.

“This if the perfect location for this — if we don’t make it here, we’re not going to make it anywhere,” he said. He was referring, in large part, to the packed parking lot at the Longmeadow Shops, a heavily trafficked lifestyle center (now being expanded) featuring an eclectic mix of high-end tenants including Ann Taylor and Chico’s, but also several popular anchors such as a CVS and a few bank branches. But he was also referencing the facility’s spot on the map, in Longmeadow, but only a half-mile or so from East Longmeadow and the Connecticut border and the affluent communities there.

Rosskothen said his research told him that, while there are many attractive geographic options for launching this kind of venture — the Amherst-Northampton area, Westfield, and East Longmeadow itself were also considered — his instincts told him that this was the place to start.

And his instincts have rarely, if ever, been wrong.

They weren’t when he opened a few Boston Chicken franchises in the region in the early ’90s, deciding that area residents had, or would develop, an appetite for the emerging product known as ‘fast casual.’

They were on target again when, in 1996, he and partner Larry Perreault decided to resurrect the Log Cabin as a banquet facility, guessing that, despite a market flooded with competitors, there was room for, well, a room with a view. And they were right; ‘the Cabin,’ as it’s known colloquially, at least in some circles, remains one of the region’s most popular venues for events, because of those views, as well as a location roughly halfway between Springfield and Northampton.

Those instincts were on the money — in all kinds of ways — with subsequent ventures such as the Delaney House restaurant and its more casual, on-site counterpart, the Mick; the D. Hotel on the Delaney House property; Mt. Joe; and Log Rolling.

That last venture is the catering arm that brings ‘rolling kitchens,’ as Rosskothen calls them (hence the name), to venues across Western Mass. and Northern Conn. The venture has done well during the 17-day Big E, for example, as groups look to stage their own functions in a large tent on the grounds, and he’s anticipating big things this fall as the institution celebrates its 100th birthday.

“Log Rolling has become a nice business division for us — it’s for people who are looking for our services, but at a unique site,” he said, adding that these have ranged from Wickham Park in Manchester, Conn. (which also has a log cabin) to Black Birch Vineyard in Southampton, and a wide array of spots in between and beyond.

Mt. Joe to Go

Mt. Joe to Go, with locations at the Log Cabin and downtown Holyoke, is one of a series of entrepreneurial endeavors launched by Peter Rosskothen and various partners.

And Rosskothen believes his instincts (and those of his team) are again sound with a venture that in some ways encapsulates all the ventures that came before it, to one degree or another. In a nutshell, it brings food to customers in a convenient manner and creates another, and potentially solid, revenue stream.

“This is really exciting because it’s a way to utilize a lot of our brainpower and ability and apply it to a new business,” he explained. “And it’s not conflicting with what we do on weekends.”

That last remark was a reference mostly to the events, and especially weddings, at the Log Cabin and also the Delaney House. Not all events come on weekends, but most of them do, he explained, adding quickly that while this business is quite solid, there is a time of the year — January through March — that is sometimes problematically slow.

Some of the other recent entrepreneurial undertakings have been launched in an effort to overcome those slow months — Log Rolling was also created to counter a marked slowdown that followed the onset of the Greater Recession in 2008 — and Delaney’s Market is no exception.

Full Menu of Options

As he offered BusinessWest a quick tour of the storefront in progress, Rosskothen explained the concept in more detail.

He started by pointing to a long row of coolers along one wall, and then grabbing a sturdy, microwavable plastic container, one of several sizes that would be available. The former would be filled with the latter, he said, adding that food prepared at the Log Cabin would be trucked to the Longmeadow Shops in refrigerated trucks daily.

To fully explain the concept, though, he referred back to still another of his team’s entrepreneurial undertakings — the Mt. Joe facilities, located in the lower parking lot of the Log Cabin and at the transit facility in downtown Holyoke.

It specializes in coffee — hence the name — but also sells meals to go, enough of them to prompt thoughts, talk, and then action to take that business to a different, much higher level.

“We’ve always had this dream about what we could do with meals to go,” he told BusinessWest. “For a while, we studied the home-delivery-of-meals (or ingredients) concept, but the problem with them is you have to be disciplined — the food shows up, and you have to cook it, or you waste it. And it’s not cheap.

“It’s a good concept, but I really like what we’re doing here,” he went on. “I’m on my way home … I don’t really know what I want for dinner … I do know that I really don’t want to prep my meal … I stop in Delaney’s Market, I walk around, see what I feel like, pick it up, grab a bottle of wine or a beer, and take it home.”

TV celebrity Ed McMahon

Peter Rosskothen, then operator of Boston Chicken franchises, is seen with TV celebrity Ed McMahon at a promotion at one of the stores.

Rosskothen and his team are betting that this thought process is common enough to create enormous business potential, and he believes it’s a pretty safe bet.

As for what will be in those plastic containers on the store shelves, Rosskothen said there would be a host of entrees, but also salads, desserts, breads, and beverage options made possible by a surprisingly available liquor license.

The menu is still somewhat of a work in progress, he went on, and would always be something flexible and a reflection of what customers wanted. But when pressed for examples of what patrons might expect, he listed items like chicken francaise, beef bourguignon, salmon salad, and stuffed mushroom caps. This will be a restaurant, but in a retail format.

In keeping with current dietary trends and a broader focus on health, each container will let the customer know how many calories they’ll consume per serving, said Rosskothen, adding that there will be low-calorie, vegetarian, and gluten-free offerings, among other things.

“Everyone I’ve talked to about this — and that’s a lot of people — says, ‘I hope you’re going to have healthy items; I’m trying to lose some weight,’ or ‘I’m trying to be good,’” he noted. “I tell them, ‘absolutely — that’s a big part of our thinking.’

“We have a good idea of what we want to bring here, but we’ll adapt to what our guests want,” he explained. “The best way to explain it is that we’ll have the variety of a restaurant, but with a focus that will make us a regular stop for people.”

Salad Days

As he talked about the timing of his latest venture, Rosskothen believes it’s ideal given the way societal trends are changing and the retail sector is trending.

As for the Aug. 3 scheduled soft opening, he said this date is ideal as well. Not because business will be brisk, but because it will likely be rather slow — although there’s a good deal of buzz about this operation — given the large number of families that will be on vacation.

“We’re opening in August on purpose — I like to start in a slow month,” he said, adding that this strategic decision was made with an eye toward getting whatever kinks there might be out, a staff up to speed, and perhaps an even better feeling for what the buying public wants — and doesn’t want.

This thinking is not exactly straight out of most business-success textbooks, but it’s yet another example of how Rosskothen and his team are thinking outside the box, or food container, as the case may be, and expressing their appetite for entrepreneurship in a way that is both scientific and, as history shows, successful.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Brian Mannix

Brian Mannix says plans to transform the clock tower building into market-rate apartments, with retail and office space, could bring young professionals to the community.

Brian Mannix stood at the foot of Ludlow’s new riverwalk behind Ludlow Mills and talked about a future he could clearly picture.

“Think of what it would be like to clear away some of this greenery and have a restaurant with seats facing the river and boutique shops with benches outside,” said Mannix, chair of the town’s Board of Selectmen, as he spoke about Ludlow Mills, the projects underway on its campus, and the unlimited potential the property will hold for years to come.

Eric Nelson says Mannix’s vision may become reality. “We have one building now with the potential for a view of the river, and when we create Riverside Drive, which is on the comprehensive plan for the site, it will open up new vistas,” said the recently named president and CEO of Westmass Area Development Corp., which owns the site and is working to revitalize it. “Plus, we just knocked down two large structures with asbestos between the large mill buildings and the river, and the vistas from them are tremendous.”

The mills encompass a sprawling complex of more than 60 buildings set on 170 acres, and Westmass predicts that, over the next 15 years, more than 2,000 new jobs will be created and retained there, and more than $300 million will be spent in private investments.

Two years ago, HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts opened a new, $28 million acute-care facility on the grounds, which marked the beginning of the revitalization of the largest brownfield mill-redevelopment project in New England and kept 75 to 100 jobs in Ludlow.

“HealthSouth was a big jump start,” said Lawrence Curtis, president and managing partner of WinnDevelopment, which specializes in housing and mill redevelopment and has two projects planned at the Ludlow Mills. One is a $24.5 million adaptive reuse of Mill 10 that will result in 63 one-bedroom units and 12 two-bedroom apartments for seniors.

Curtis said that project is fully funded and expected to be complete in the fall. “We’re transforming a vacant building with broken windows into a vibrant space that will contain subsidized and market-rate apartments with beautiful architectural features, including exposed beams and brick and large windows,” he said.

The ambitious second phase of the company’s work was announced at the recent Developers Conference in downtown Springfield, and involves the conversion and reuse of Mill 8, which features the town’s iconic clock tower. The plan is to turn the building’s 231,000 square feet across several floors into 100 to 136 market-rate apartments with commercial, retail, and office space on the first floor. The estimated cost is $60 million, and Curtis said significant funding needs to be secured before work can get underway.

But he considers it an ideal site.

“Ludlow Mills is a beautiful, intact complex situated in the center of town; it’s a great location, and Winn Development and the town of Ludlow are fortunate to have married to take advantage of the space there,” he said, adding that, in the past, many people wondered what would become of the property.

And indeed, the revitalization of the complex and the new projects will make a decided difference.

“The potential of what this will bring to the town is overwhelming,” Mannix said, noting that many fund-raisers have been held over the years to repair the clock tower, and the news that the building will remain and be put to new use makes many residents happy.

“The clock tower is a signature piece that people see when they drive into town, and we hope it will become the icon of the new project,” he continued, as he lauded Westmass and Winn Development for their efforts.

Westmass purchased the site five years ago, and since that time, it has attracted $75 million in public and private investment, outside the newly announced $60 million clock-tower building renovation.

“WestMass has a real desire and determination to use the mill property to put Ludlow on the map, and the redevelopment is a step forward in Ludlow’s future,” Mannix told BusinessWest, noting that the loft-style apartments planned for the clock tower could bring new, young professionals to town, hopefully followed by small boutiques and restaurants to enhance the site.

Nelson said the work that is complete, in progress, and in the planning stages speaks to the partnership that the town formed with Westmass.

“This is the fruit of all that has been done. When the comprehensive zoning and master plan were created, we envisioned these types of projects,” he said, explaining early public meetings with residents to determine what they wanted in terms of preservation and development, which included senior housing.

Progress Report

The majority of buildings that make up the heart of Ludlow Mills on State Street were built between the 1870s and 1920s by Ludlow Manufacturing and Sales Co. From the 1860s through the 1970s, it made cloth, rope, and twine out of Indian-grown jute, flax, and hemp, employing about 4,000 people in its heyday.

the historic clock tower building

Plans are on the table to convert the historic clock tower building into market-rate housing.

Although the property fell into a state of decline after the operation shut down, great strides have been made toward revitalization, thanks to public and private investments, including the one by HealthSouth, which paid tribute to the town’s history by using 100,000 salvaged bricks and planed wooden beams from old mill buildings in its new hospital. Today, the complex is a mixed-use district and home to many small manufacturing and design businesses that include Iron Duke Brewery, which opened in a 3,000-square-foot space in December 2014.

Mannix said the microbrewery has done so well, it plans to add an outside patio with entertainment in the near future.

Potential to build a new senior center also exists at the mill site, and the selectmen recently listened to a proposal presented by Council on Aging officials and Friends of the Senior Center who want the town to build a $10 million, 23,000-square-foot facility on a 4.4-acre parcel of land next to HealthSouth. “They did a lot of groundwork and had a great presentation,” Mannix said.

The mill property has also been enhanced by a riverwalk that officially opened several months ago. It starts behind the clock tower and ends at HealthSouth.

Mannix said the town just received a $429,500 MassWorks grant for the riverwalk that will be used to install new signage to educate people about the history of Ludlow and Ludlow Mills, as well as new lighting and markings that will help make it more accessible.

A great deal of needed infrastructure work has also been completed in the area.

“The water and sewer lines downtown were installed when Ludlow Mills was in its heyday, but were never mapped out. We needed to bring them up to code to have the ability to attract developers and all types of businesses,” Mannix said, noting that a $5 million sewer-separation project was just finished, and close to $4 million has been spent to upgrade the utilities on State Street.

In addition, new curbing, sidewalks, and lighting have been installed along a 1.5-mile stretch on East Street that runs from the bridge to Williams Street.

Although downtown vacancies were on the rise a decade ago, over the past few years new restaurants and beauty salons have been filling empty storefronts.

“We’re finally moving forward in the right direction. We’re looking to improve our downtown district and constantly looking for businesses that want to locate there,” Mannix said.

He noted that Cumberland Farms on West Street just expanded, and the one on East Street recently purchased a former restaurant next door, razed the building, and is building a new, expanded storefront.

A new solar farm is also in the planning stages. Mannix told BusinessWest that Ed Godin, who owns Ludlow Auto Salvage, has closed his decades-old family business and is turning it into a solar facility. It will be the second solar farm in town; several years ago, the Ludlow landfill was converted into a 2.7-megawatt facility by California developer Borrego Solar Systems Inc.

“All of the electricity generated at the landfill is sold to the town at a substantially reduced rate; it saves us $120,000 each year,” Mannix said, adding that he is happy the land owned by Ludlow Auto Salvage will be used to generate green energy.

A new public cemetery may also become part of the landscape; the town is in the process of purchasing 40 acres next to Ludlow Auto Salvage for that purpose. The site was once home to a driving range and has been unused for about a decade.

Mannix said the purchase is important because the town’s current public cemetery will be filled in two or three years, and the new cemetery, located off Center Street or Route 20, will be large enough to last for decades.

View to the Future

Nelson said the town vigorously supported Westmass after it purchased the property, and partnered with the state to secure enough state and federal funding to complete the cleanup of the brownfield site and get the needed infrastructure work done.

“Having these things complete makes it attractive to developers like Winn. Their projects are challenging enough, and having the infrastructure and cleanup completed allows them to do what they do best,” he said. “We’re starting to see people focusing not only on the mills, but on Ludlow itself.”

Indeed, the new HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital and work being done by WinnDevelopment are already bringing new life to the area.

“The community has been very receptive to what we are doing, and thanks to our track record, skill set, and interest from the town, a real transformation is happening at the Ludlow Mills,” Curtis said.

Mannix agreed. “The clock-tower project and the transformation of Building 10 will be a giant step forward for the future of the town,” he said, adding that Ludlow already has a lot to offer. “We have top-of-the-line schools and a sports complex behind the high school, our own golf course, a beach at Haviland Pond and a town pool on Whitney Street which both offer extensive youth programs during the summer, a community center, great services which include free trash pickup, a reasonable tax rate, and Lupa Zoo, which is a real asset as it constantly brings new people into town.

“Things are very positive, and a lot of it has to do with the Ludlow Mills and people like Ed Godin,” Mannix went on. “We are very pleased with the growth that is taking place.”

Nelson said every dollar invested in revitalizing a mill property multiplies and has a ripple affect in the community and region in general: contractors get work, there is a need for building supplies, and new jobs are created once projects are complete.

“If you throw a rock in a pond, it makes waves, and the largest waves are right where it lands,” he said.

With a view of the river that will be seen not only from the new apartments facing it, but from many businesses that occupy the property in the future, it’s not hard to see why officials can easily imagine a bright future for Ludlow.

 

Ludlow at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1774
Population: 9,872 (2010)
Area: 28.2 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $18.13
Commercial Tax Rate: $18.13
Median Household Income: $53,244
Family Household Income: $67,797
Type of Government: Town Council; Representative Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Hampden County House of Correction; Massachusetts Air National Guard; Kleeberg Sheet Metal Inc.; R&C Floral Inc.
* Latest information available

Banking and Financial Services Sections

Focus on the Fundamentals

team members

John Howland, far right, with team members (from left) Mark Grumoli, commercial loan officer, Denise Coyle, chief operating officer, and Tom Meshako, treasurer and chief financial officer.

Blocking and tackling.

Those are the fundamentals of winning football at any level, or so most coaches would say. But John Howland uses that phrase often as he talks about banking.

He uses it, as those on the gridiron do, in reference to maintaining a keen focus on the basics, the things one has to do right in order to achieve success. And in the case of financial institutions, that list includes some things that most would consider obvious — everything from good customer service to attractive products and services; from having competitive rates on those products to giving back within the community.

But there are also many items that fall into the category of ‘fundamentals’ that are perhaps less obvious, said Howland, president and CEO of Greenfield Savings Bank, a position he took roughly 16 months ago.

In that category would fall such things as imaginative new products, such as GSB’s ‘express business loan,’ a name that pretty much says it all (more on that later), as well as efforts to stay on the cutting edge of technology. Also fitting that description is the bank’s recent hosting of a meeting of the Franklin County Young Professionals Assoc. and other efforts to help foster leadership, as well as a somewhat related philosophy, said Denise Coyne, GSB’s executive vice president and COO, one centered on the notion that taking care of employees is as important as taking care of customers.

Then, there was the recent Asparagus Festival in Hadley, the town famous for its production of that vegetable. GSB was a sponsor of that event, said Howland, noting this alone constitutes blocking and tackling by supporting a local tradition and helping it continue. But the bank went further, renting additional space beyond that traditionally given to sponsors and awarding some of it to commercial customers who could benefit from the exposure and foot traffic.

“They were able to show their goods and gain awareness,” said Coyne. “It was a great opportunity for them, and for us as well, to show we’re working with businesses like that.

“We continue to do the blocking and tackling of banking — looking at updating technology, continually refining the offerings we have for our customers, and facilitating and expediting the interaction between the customer and the bank,” he added in an effort to sum things up. “We’re committed to organic growth through customer demand — it’s as simple as that.”

But there’s nothing inherently simple about executing all of that, and for this issue and its focus on banking and financial services, BusinessWest talked with several leaders at GSB about how it’s accomplished by a focus on fundamentals — and the expansion of that term as it applies to banking.

Sticking with the Game Plan

As he talked about his first 16 months at the helm and the bank’s broad strategic plan moving forward, Howland interspersed those thoughts with observations — and commentary — about the bank’s hometown of Greenfield.

Where once its economy was in many ways dominated by large manufacturers that employed hundreds who filled the downtown’s restaurants and lunch counters, it is now characterized by smaller businesses, many of them in an emerging ‘green’ energy sector as well as the centuries-old and still-stable agricultural sector.

“Going back 40 or 50 years, there might have been 30 or 40 fairly good-sized companies headquartered here,” he explained. “Most of those have consolidated and been rolled up into large, national organizations.

“What we see now is the next generation coming through,” he went on. “And this is in many areas — food service, manufacturing, green energy. We now have a large number of small companies that make product here and ship it elsewhere; we’ve created a new economy.”

In many respects, GSB is well-suited to meeting the needs of this changing business landscape, he said, adding that very large manufacturers would likely do business with a considerably larger institution. Meanwhile, the bank’s lending sweet spot and small-business focus positions it to serve these emerging ventures.

“We have an opportunity to fuel some of this growth,” he explained. “We can be the institution that can lend to these people when they need a piece of equipment or buy a piece of land. We can be there to assist them.”

That’s just one of many reasons why Howland and his team are optimistic about the prospects for the future — when it comes to the community and the bank. Both are at intriguing junctures in their history.

When he talked with BusinessWest soon after his arrival early last year, Howland, who came to Greenfield from First Bank of Greenwich, described the institution, and the cities and towns it served, with terms like ‘stability,’ ‘continuity,’ and ‘community-centered flavor,’ and what he’s seen and heard since has only reinforced those sentiments.

“This is a wonderful area, not just Greenfield but all of Franklin County,” he said, noting that he and his family have relocated there. “It’s an incredibly close-knit community, and one of the things I really like about this area is that multiple generations can live together; I’ve lived in areas where we have more transient populations where people come and people go. But in this part of the state, it’s not unusual to see parents and children living next door to each other. And that makes for a very special community.”

Later in that discussion with BusinessWest early last year, Howland said the bank was well-positioned for continued stability and growth because of its firm roots in the community, expanding commercial-loan portfolio, and presence in a region that was not as heavily banked — or ‘overbanked,’ as many would say — as other areas in Western Mass.

And, again, his experiences to date have only added figurative exclamation points to all of the above.

For these reasons, Howland said GSB doesn’t have to become preoccupied with gaining size and scale — as so many other institutions across the region have, as witnessed by the spate of mergers and acquisitions and rash of new branch openings — and remains focused on growing organically.

“Growth through acquisition is not really our strategy,” he continued. “We would consider an acquisition if we felt that it made sense, but we really are focused on enhancing our position within the markets that we serve and complementing the services we provide to our customers to expand our relationships with them.”

Gaining Ground

Overall, GSB is focused mostly on maintaining the status quo and growing market share across the spectrum of product lines — through more of that blocking and tackling.

“Our strategy is pretty straightforward, and there’s no magic to it, really; it’s about providing the best service we can provide for customers, and attracting both loans and deposits,” he explained. “There are no silver bullets, and no rabbits you can pull out of a hat.”

But there is plenty of room for innovation and creativity, he went on, pointing to products like the express business loan. Through the program, said Mark Grumoli, senior vice president and commercial loan officer, businesses can get up to $100,000, sometimes in 24 or 48 hours.

Products like this one have enabled the bank to maintain strong market share in Franklin County but also move well beyond ‘dabbling’ in neighboring Hampshire County and especially Northampton, a term he said he would apply a decade ago.

“Over the past eight years, much of the loan growth, especially on the commercial side, has come in Hampshire County,” he said, adding that this has been achieved through a combination of awareness, direct presence (new branches in Amherst and Northampton), and a relationship-driven focus.

There’s also — and this is quite timely — ‘Buy in July,’ a program the bank has staged for a quarter-century now that encourages homebuyers to step up during what is a traditionally the busiest time for that market through incentives such as a 25-year, biweekly product that is fairly unique.

“It’s programs like this that really help the mortgage department,” said Coyne, adding that, for the past 14 years, the bank has been the top residential lender in Franklin County and has registered 38% growth in that realm within neighboring Hampshire County. “It’s because of programs like this that really help borrowers out.”

But this business of blocking and tackling goes beyond products and services, said those we spoke with, a philosophy that brings Howland back to that meeting of the young professionals and, more importantly, a commitment that goes beyond making the lobby available for a meeting.

“We believe that this group is very important to the future of Franklin County,” he explained. “A lot of the outlying areas in the state, those outside the urban areas, are suffering from an aging population; in Amherst, the fastest-growing segment of the population is 80- to 90-year-olds.

“So we’re trying to support, in any we can, the environment for younger people in Franklin County,” he went on. “And we’re doing the same in Hampshire County. This is the kind of basic stuff a community bank needs to do. I’m not expecting any transactions out of this; it’s about building community and making the community stronger.”

Scoring Points

As he continued to talk about continuity and a desire to continue doing what the bank has always done, Howland pointed to the name over the door and on the stationery as perhaps the most visible example.

Indeed, at a time when almost every other institution has dropped the word ‘savings’ for one reason or another, GSB has no plans to follow suit.

“We were Greenfield Savings Bank then, and we’re Greenfield Savings Bank now,” he said, adding that this consistency has a lot to do with history, tradition, pride, and mission.

But also, it’s not really something that needs to be done to propel the bank forward and generate growth.

That assignment comes down to blocking and tackling — and the bank has no intention of losing its focus on those fundamentals.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Mayor Richard Cohen and Marc Strange

Mayor Richard Cohen and Marc Strange say the new, $8 million Agawam High School sports complex will be completed in the fall.

Mayor Richard Cohen recently unearthed a 30-year-old newspaper article that said Agawam’s Walnut Street Extension area needed to be revitalized.

The story reveals just how long that area has been a target for redevelopment, and also how current efforts may finally produce headlines of a different nature.

Indeed, the mayor said it has long been his plan to transform the area into a walkable downtown where people want to live, work, and play — and that dream may be approaching reality.

“It will take time, effort, and money to achieve, but we are moving in the right direction,” said Cohen, adding that the area has been a primary focus since 2010.

The town’s efforts received a tangible boost on April 1 when David Peters of Site Redevelopment Technologies purchased the former Games and Lanes bowling-alley property at 346-350 Walnut St. Extension. It has been a highly visible eyesore since it closed in 2001 after a fire caused extensive damage to the 30,000-square-foot building, which sits on a 2.3-acre lot.

The property was owned by Standard Uniform Corp. from 1969 through the ’80s, and in 1989, widespread groundwater contamination was discovered that spread off-site in a northeasterly direction.

The former owner worked in partnership with the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection to clean up the brownfields and spent $1.5 million on the effort, but eventually gave up; the property has been vacant for 15 years.

In the past, developers shied away from purchasing it due to the unknown amount of environmental remediation that still needs to be done. But Peters didn’t view that as an impediment.

“I’m a purchaser of last resorts; I look for environmental disasters, and although they can be costly and time-consuming to clean up, this gave me an opportunity to rehabilitate the property and the neighborhood,” he said, explaining that his work as a chemical engineer led him to create Site Redevelopment Technologies, which specializes in purchasing, cleaning, and redeveloping environmentally impaired properties.

However, before making the purchase, he did want to know how far the pollution had spread. The town had received a $50,000 grant to study the property and completed the first phase of that investigation in 2014, and after Peters sent a letter of intent stating he was interested in purchasing it, the City Council approved an additional $12,000 for the study.

Peters spent a year working closely with town and state officials to get the results, and estimates it will take another year and cost about $300,000 to complete the cleanup. But the property is already on the market, and a developer has approached him about using it as an indoor recreation area that would feature go-karts.

“This project is like a pebble thrown in a pond,” noted Marc Strange, the town’s Planning and Community Development director. “It will have a ripple affect on the entire Walnut Street Extension area. It could become an anchor development that will drive traffic and new customers to the neighborhood, especially if it is coupled with new programs like a Taste of Agawam or a block party.”

Plans Unfold

The Walnut Street Extension area is home to about 30 service-oriented businesses, retail shops, and restaurants, with a loyal customer base.

But it was clear that improvements needed to be made to transform it into a town center, and last October, the town hired the engineering firm Tighe & Bond to create a design plan that would be inviting and attractive.

The company worked with landscape architect Andrew Leonard to create several conceptual designs, and Strange said two public meetings were held with property owners in the Walnut Street Extension area to gather input on their preferences.

The majority chose an outdoor market concept, which will be reflected in the final design that is anticipated in about a month. It will include the outdoor market area, a 12-foot-wide sidewalk and 12-foot-wide island with new trees and sidewalk furniture on one side of the street, a roundabout at the end of the road, and a 10-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian lane. Parking will be maintained on the side of the street with the narrower sidewalk, and new spaces will be added on an adjacent street.

The town was also recently awarded a $10,000 Massachusetts Downtown Initiative grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development to provide support for businesses on Walnut Street Extension.

A portion of the money was used for a June 14 workshop conducted by Christine Moynihan of Retail Visioning titled “Best Retail Practices.” It was open to the public, and six Walnut Street Extension area business owners were selected for free follow-up, one-on-one sessions, along with $350 worth of improvements made on their behalf.

In addition, the reconstruction of the Morgan Sullivan Bridge, which spans the Westfield River and runs from West Springfield into Agawam, serving as a gateway to the nearby Walnut Street Extension, will also help to revitalize the area. The $13.3 million rehabilitation project will add new traffic signals to relieve congestion and prevent the traffic jams that occur daily during rush hour.

In addition, the former Food Mart store on 63 Springfield St., which was most recently home to the Agawam YMCA, has been put to new use.

Cohen said the nonprofit vacated the structure May 31, and the next day it reopened as the West of the River Family Community Center.

“The Y’s misfortune was our good fortune,” he told BusinessWest, explaining that the community center will offer an expanded menu of more than 100 programs and will help draw more people to the area.

“We’re moving in the right direction with our dream,” he reiterated, adding that the Valley Opportunity Council plans to open an office in the building and was very helpful with the transition.

Cohen said the town will continue to seek funding to help with revitalization efforts, and will apply for a $1 million MassWorks grant to help pay for the new streetscape project that is being designed in conjunction with the Complete Streets plan, which encourages the development of safe and accessible bicycle and pedestrian traffic lanes.

Ongoing Development

Efforts are underway to make Agawam into a ‘dementia-friendly community’ in conjunction with an initiative created by Dementia Friendly America to increase awareness about the disease.

Cohen said the idea of providing ongoing education was proposed by Melinda Monasterski, and he believes it is important.

She told BusinessWest that she put together a meeting with the mayor, Strange, and officials from the senior center, library, and home-health agencies with the idea of providing the public with more education and information about dementia.

“It can be difficult to know how to interact with people who have dementia. It’s also hard for families to understand and cope with the changes that occur in their loved ones, and it can be challenging for first responders to help people with the condition during a crisis,” said the director of Heritage Hall’s dementia program, citing studies estimating that 10 million Americans will be affected by the disease over the next decade.

As a result of Monasterski’s efforts, educational sessions and support-group meetings will be held in the senior center, library, and new family center, and informational videos will be shown on the town’s website and broadcast on the public-access TV channel.

Progress is also occurring at another gateway in town; last month, the Colvest Group purchased and razed the former Agawam Motor Lodge on the corner of Suffield and Main streets. Cohen said the company has plans to redevelop the entire corner, which will make a decided difference, as the motor lodge had become a public nuisance.

Another significant project kicked off in March at Agawam High School, where construction began on a new track and sports complex. The $8.1 million project is expected to be completed in September and will include a new synthetic track and multi-purpose artificial turf field, new bleachers and electronic signage, new lighting, eight lighted tennis courts, a new baseball field, a new basketball court, upgrades to the softball fields and added dugouts, a new concession stand with room for an athletic trainer, and handicapped-accessible bathrooms. Work will also be done inside the school and will include new locker rooms and state-of-the-art bathrooms. In addition, the grounds around the complex will contain bicycle and pedestrian walkways so people can easily access different areas.

The designs were created by Milone and Macbroom of Springfield and Caolo & Bieniek Associates of Chicopee, and the construction is being undertaken by Lupachino and Salvatore of Bloomfield, Conn.

“We haven’t had a track in well over a decade and were in desperate need of new tennis courts,” Cohen said. “When the work is finished, it will be a very impressive sports campus.”

A $2.2 million upgrade to School Street Park was also completed last year. The project was done in two phases and encompasses 50 acres.

Cohen said it was the largest park project undertaken in the state in the past 25 years and offers something for everyone of any age: it boasts a water-spray park, a band shell and stage, volleyball courts, a small playground, and an additional 200 parking spots, which were all paid for with Community Preservation funds and a $1 million PARC grant.

A new dog park, built on Armory Drive with a $250,000 grant, was also finished last year and has proved to be very popular.

Infrastructure improvements are also on the agenda, and this year’s budget contains money to hire a four-person crew to maintain and repair the town’s sidewalks, which went by the wayside for a few years due to a lack of funding. In addition, the town is working with SCORE to start programs for people who want to open businesses.

But even though development is taking place in many areas, Cohen noted the town has worked to maintain open space by putting restrictions in place to preserve farmland and prevent it from ever being developed.

Solid Framework

On June 3, the mayor received notification that Standard and Poor reaffirmed the town’s AA+ bond rating, and an accompanying report states Agawam has a strong economy and strong management team, and employs good financial policies and practices.

“I’m extremely proud of what we have done, what we are doing, where we are going, and our AA+ bond rating,” Cohen said, adding that, whenever a new project is planned, the impact on taxpayers is taken into careful consideration.

“We still maintain the lowest split tax rate in the area, offer full services including free trash pickup, and are committed to elevating the quality of life,” he continued. “I want Agawam to be a place that has a lot to offer where people can afford to live.”

Revitalizing the Walnut Street Extension area will go a long way toward realizing that goal, but the mayor noted that all of the projects that were recently completed, are underway, or are in the planning stages have a synergistic element.

“The pieces dance around each other, and we are trying to put them all together,” Cohen said. “There is a lot of positive change taking place in Agawam.”

Agawam at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 28,976 (2016)
Area: 24.2 square miles

County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $16.18
Commercial Tax Rate: $29.98
Median Household Income: $63,682
Family Household Income: $72,258
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: OMG Inc., Agawam Public Schools, Six Flags New England
* Latest information available

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Sounds of Summer

Stearns Square

Each summer concert in Stearns Square may attract between 1,000 and 5,000 attendees, depending on the artist.

Chris Russell says the performers at this year’s CityBlock Concert Series will appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes.

“The outdoor concerts have been a popular event for many years, and we worked hard last year to diversify the offerings,” said the executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District, or BID, which stages the series. “But we think we’ve done an even better job this year.”

The summer lineup includes a range of genres and showcases well-known groups whose music ranges from pop, rock, and folk to country, Motown, and blues.

“We offer regional and national acts that most people have to pay to see,” Russell told BusinessWest, noting that performances are held on Thursday nights in Stearns Square in the heart of downtown.

They begin at approximately 7:30 p.m., and Russell said area restaurants definitely benefit from the events: they are filled before and after the concerts, which is particularly beneficial because the summer is a time when business usually slows down.

“The restaurants get very busy on the nights of the performances. The concerts are one of the driving economic forces for their weeknight summer business, and they are very important to them. They report a big uptick during the events,” he noted, adding that the concerts attract about 20,000 people each season, with attendance varying from 1,000 to 5,000 each night, depending on the weather and what group is playing.

Word has spread about the free attractions, and the BID begins receiving requests as early as December from groups that want to be part of the concert series in Springfield.

“We try to get national touring acts, so putting schedules together can be challenging,” Russell noted, adding that, although the BID stages the events — which includes hiring the acts, taking care of all operations, and producing the series — the sponsors provide critical funding.

This year, MassMutual Financial Group is CityBlock’s presenting sponsor, followed by other businesses that include Williams Distributing, Sheraton Springfield, the Eastern States Exposition, and United Personnel.

Diverse Talents

Although all of the concerts feature well-known groups, a few are expected to be especially popular. They include the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, which will appear July 21.

“We’re expecting a very large turnout that night,” Russell said.

The Machine is the most popular Pink Floyd show in the nation and has been playing for 25 years. They employ elaborate stage displays and dramatic lighting and have appeared in theaters, large clubs, and casinos across North and Central America, Europe, and Asia, along with playing at many renowned music festivals.

The American country-music group Natalie Stovall and the Drive, which will appear July 28, is also expected to attract a large crowd.

Stovall began playing the fiddle professionally at age 10 and made her Grand Old Opry debut at age 12. She puts on about 200 shows every year and has performed at the White House as well as on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and supported non-country acts like Switchfoot, the Doobie Brothers, Styx, and Safetysuit.

The Springfield BID staged the first CityBlock Concert Series 15 years ago, and the annual events have continued since that time, boosting business downtown and bringing people to the city who might not otherwise visit on a weeknight.

BID ambassadors are stationed on a number of streets, and the architectural details of many historic buildings are highlighted, thanks to special lighting installed by the BID, which runs from the MassMutual Center along Main Street to Lyman Street.

Extra police details patrol the area during the concerts, although Russell says Springfield is one of the safest cities of its size in the region.

And although many communities offer free summer music events, Springfield’s CityBlock series differs due to the local and nationally acclaimed acts, which are made possible by the support of local businesses.

“The concerts take place rain or shine and are a big undertaking,” Russell said, adding that vendors offer food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to concertgoers, although many choose to frequent downtown restaurants before and after the shows.

The first concert will take place June 30 and will feature FAT, a rock band from Springfield that toured as the opening act for the Allman Brothers after their first album was released, and has sold out the MassMutual Center Ballroom.

“They’re a local favorite and always draw a huge crowd,” Russell said.

Their performance will be held in Court Square instead of Stearns Square, but there will be no street closures, and parking will be available in the Civic Center and 91 South garages, as well as on the street.

In addition to FAT, the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, and Natalie Stovall and the Drive, other concerts include:

• Ricky Nelson Remembered on July 7;
• Forever Motown on July 14;
• Terry Sylvester on Aug. 4;
• Max Creek on Aug. 11;
• Blessid Union of Souls on Aug. 18; and
• The Shadowboxers on Aug. 25.

Russell said the American rock band Max Creek is expected to draw a large and diverse audience. The group has been playing for more than 40 years, and its music incorporates rock, country, reggae, soul, jazz, and calypso, as well as their own songs. Guitarist Scott Murawski, keyboardist Mark Mercier, and bassist John Rider have been with Max Creek since the mid-’70s, and are accompanied by the drums and percussion team of Bill Carbone and Jamemurrell Stanley.

A performance by the Shadowboxers, which will mark the end of the season and is being paid for by the Big E, is also expected to bring large numbers of people to Stearns Square. Their first full-length album, Red Room, produced by Brady Blade (Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris) was featured in the New York Daily News “Top 10 Picks in Music,” and the band’s cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl” attracted nearly 200,000 YouTube views as well as recognition on Twitter from Timberlake and Pharrell Williams.

In addition to the main acts, the Eastern States Exposition is sponsoring a weekly opening-act performance. These acts will be finalists in the exposition’s Masters of Music Competition, and the overall winner will perform at the Big E and receive $1,000 and a trip to Nashville for two band members.

“The concerts provide a fun night in the city,” Russell said. “But we have to give a lot of credit and thanks to our sponsors, and we are very grateful for their support.”

Community Spotlight Features
From left, Mary Yung, Erika Zekos, and Mayor David Narkewicz

From left, Mary Yung, Erika Zekos, and Mayor David Narkewicz say Click Workspace’s new downtown location will allow them to offer professional development and cultural events, as well as shared workspace.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz says the scope of new construction and renovation projects that were recently completed, are underway, or are in the planning stages total $36 million, and attest to the city’s strong financial position and vibrant downtown.

“We’ve seen high levels of residential and commercial construction over the past few years, and Standard & Poor’s recently upgraded our bond rating to AAA,” he said, adding that only 65 out of 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth have attained that status.

Meanwhile, downtown Northampton has long been the envy of nearby cities as a center for arts and culture, renowned for live music, and has a plethora of restaurants in every price range.

It is also home to many retail shops, and Thornes Marketplace on 150 Main St. is fully rented for the first time in 40 years.

However, reports surfaced in January that the city’s downtown was suffering a setback, with 14 of its 251 storefronts vacant.

Narkewicz doesn’t discount the concerns and discussion that occurred when the information was publicized, but says people have been writing the city’s obituary for the past decade, and the majority of closings can be attributed to cyclical turnovers that occur whenever long-term owners retire, which is the case for many businesses that closed their doors.

The vacant storefronts are filling back up, and the city has taken a proactive stance to ensure that the public gets accurate information. To that end, data has been collected that provides an accurate analysis of existing properties. It has been published in a new ‘Downtown Indicator’ on the city’s website that will be updated in July.

Architect Mary Yung is a well-known resident who is enthusiastic about the city’s downtown. She lives in the neighborhood, and created Market9.5 LLC 18 months ago so she could purchase and develop a 9,000-square-foot building at 9 1/2 Market St. It was chosen with the intention of using it to expand Click Workspace, which offers shared space to entrepreneurs, techies, and professionals who work remotely.

“After I was contacted by Click and asked to help them grow, I made it my mission to find a space within walking distance of the restaurants and shops that could also offer cultural events and professional development,” said the manager, member, and president of the Click Workspace board, adding that she had another client looking for a downtown location whose search also proved successful.

Click offers memberships on a variety of levels, and reflects the growing popularity of shared workspace among young professionals, who find that the concept promotes collaboration and networking. And since its Market Street location opened, it has grown from 27 to 41 members.

“The neighborhood is thriving, and a new Edward Jones office and juice bar also opened on the street,” said manager and member Erika Zekos.

The mayor added that new bike racks have been installed in the area because some Click members want to bike to work, which aligns nicely with the Sustainable Northampton Comprehensive Plan and Complete Streets ordinance.

In addition to the $1.6 million conversion of the Market Street building occupied by Click Workspace, two other projects are taking place in the eastern section of downtown, and another four are underway that will allow more people to live in the neighborhood and increase foot traffic for existing businesses and potential new ones, making the city even more of a destination.

Major Investments

Housing options are increasing, and Christopher Heights of Northampton opened earlier this year at Village Hill on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital. The 126-acre, mixed-use, assisted living complex is within walking distance of downtown, and its 83 units, half of which are affordable, are slowly being occupied.

“Christopher Heights increases people’s options because they can enter at the market-rate price and transition to the affordable rate as they deplete their resources,” Narkewicz said, noting many people find Northampton an attractive place to retire due to its walkability.

The new development is one of three assisted-living projects in the city, including Linda Manor and Violette’s Crossing at Rockridge, which is under construction and expected to open late this summer. It will offer 25 one- and two-bedroom apartments for seniors with annual incomes of less than $40,000 and assets of less than $200,000.

New England Urban Senior Living is another important project focused on an $18 million re-conversion of the historic former St. John’s Cantius Church into a three story, 61-unit independent-living facility with a restaurant that faces Hawley Street. The property was purchased from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. and the project is in the permitting stage.

The third project in the eastern section of downtown was initiated by Northampton Arts Trust. It purchased 33 Hawley St., across from the church, and plans a $5 million to $6 million renovation that will transform the building into a multi-dimensional, energy-efficient arts, cultural, and education center with a black-box theater.

The Mass. Cultural Council awarded the trust a $300,000 grant, but the rest of the money for the project will be raised through private donations and by leveraging state art grants.

“This is really, really important in terms of sustaining this part of our economy,” Narkewicz said, explaining that Northampton’s reputation as a center for the arts makes it difficult for new artists to find affordable exhibit space, and this project is aimed at filling that need.

The city is also in the middle of a $3.4 million renovation and expansion of the one-acre Pulaski Park, located between the Academy of Music and Memorial Hall. Phase 1 of the project is coming to an end, and the renovated, improved park is scheduled to open later this summer. It will feature a vibrant plaza, a performance stage, a sloping green lawn, new nature play area for children, and a garden watered by stormwater channeled from Main Street.

Phase 2, which will begin sometime in the near future, will expand the park by providing a better connection with the Roundhouse parking lot below, which is now accessible only via steps that lead to South Street behind the Academy of Music.

Construction is also taking place on Pleasant Street, which is an area the city hopes will become an extension of downtown. In addition to the city’s Union (Amtrak) Station, Valley Community Development Corp. plans to transform the former Northampton Lumber Co. Inc. property at 256 Pleasant St. into housing, retail, and office space.

Narkewicz told BusinessWest that these investments are being supported by infrastructure improvements. “The city is working to increase economic activity and extend sidewalks and bike lanes throughout the Pleasant Street area, and the state is redesigning the intersection at Conz and Pleasant streets,” he said, explaining that a roundabout is being created that will provide a beautiful gateway to that section of downtown.

Change is also occurring on the campus of the Clarke School for Hearing and Speech, which sold two former dormitories to a group led by developer Peter Picknelly.

A $10 million luxury apartment complex is being created in Hubbard Hall and Rogers Hall, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offer stunning views of mountains and the city’s eclectic downtown, which is a 10-minute walk away.

Narkewicz said everything possible has been done to preserve the historic character of the buildings, and some apartments feature relics such as old classroom chalkboards.

The property is significant because the century-old structures were once home to Calvin Coolidge, the nation’s 30th president, and before that, the governor of Massachusetts, and before that, the mayor of Paradise City.

Economic Development Director Terence Masterson said Gawith Hall on the Clarke School campus is also being repurposed by CheckWriters HQ, a regional human-resources service firm in Holyoke. “Fifty employees will be moved to the building when the $1.8 million renovation is complete,” he noted.

Positive Outlook

Two years ago, when the city’s business-improvement district was declared null and void due to a lawsuit that involved a technicality, Narkewicz convened a stakeholders meeting of business and property owners. It resulted in the creation of a new entity called the Downtown Northampton Assoc., better known as the DNA, that launched in April and recently hired a new director.

“We took a proactive role in the DNA’s creation and are supporting it because we view it as an important investment in the future health and growth of downtown and the entire city. It represents a new chapter,” the mayor said, explaining that the city and chamber of commerce are key partners in the DNA, and the city created a new position for a maintenance staff person whose job will involve cleaning and beautification efforts downtown.

A number of other projects are also underway or have been recently completed. Last October, Smith College finished a $1.5 million project. Major renovations were made to the historic Grecourt Gates as well as to the front entrance of the campus that enters the downtown area.

In addition, Narcewicz said, the state recently approved a major funding award to HAP Inc. to help it raze Northampton Lodging on Pleasant Street and build a new facility that will contain a office space and both market-rate and affordable housing.

Development is also continuing at Village Hill, and VCA Inc., which was one of the first business tenants on the property, is purchasing an adjoining parcel of land from MassDevelopment.

“They’re planning a $1 million, 13,000-square-foot addition that will include a 3,000-square-foot metal shop,” Masterson said. “VCA currently has 30 employees, and they plan to add six new positions when the expansion is complete.”

Efforts are also underway to convert the long-dormant Male Attendants Building on the Village Hill campus into upscale condominiums, and plans have been approved for Transformations Inc. to build Summit Oaks at Village Hill, a net-zero-energy housing complex on 35 acres that will include duplex town houses, single-family homes, and co-housing. Another project that has been completed is the new $6 million Fairfield Inn, which opened last fall. It’s a short distance from downtown and is expected to lodge at least 20,000 people each year.

The combination of new construction and redevelopment bodes well for the city, and Narkewicz says the outlook is positive.

“I’m bullish on the city,” he said, “and we consistently see people interested in moving their businesses here.”

 

Northampton at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1884
Population: 28,592 (2012)
Area: 35.8 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $16.16
Commercial Tax Rate: $16.16
Median Household Income: $61,745 (2013)
Family Household Income: $87,315 (2013)
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Cooley Dickinson Hospital, ServiceNet, Smith College, City of Northampton
* Latest information available

Meetings & Conventions Sections

Meeting Expectations

Mary Kay Wydra

Mary Kay Wydra

As news circulates concerning construction of MGM’s $950 million casino in Springfield’s South End, the region is finding itself a player in many more of the spirited competitions taking place to host meetings and conventions. That’s no coincidence, said area tourism officials, as well as those who plan such events. Because of the casino and other visible forms of progress, they note, the city is now in a different, higher bracket for such gatherings.

The planned gathering of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America — the so-called ‘Big I’ — in August 2018 certainly won’t be the biggest convention ever to come to Greater Springfield.

In fact, with 600 to 800 members of that group expected, this event will be roughly one-sixth the size of the 64th National Square Dance Convention, staged in the City of Homes in 2015. It won’t be a hugely visible group, either — again, unlike those square dancers.

Resplendent in their colorful, often handmade outfits, the dancers were easy to spot as they walked to and from various downtown venues. Dressed in civilian clothes, the insurance agents will blend in; most people visiting or working in the downtown won’t even know they’re here, unless they’re wearing nametags.

Still, the announcement that the insurance agents are coming to Springfield was a significant one for this region and its tourism industry as they enter what would have to be called the ‘casino era’ —for many reasons. They range from the list of cities Springfield beat out for the honor — tier-one stalwarts such as Atlanta, New Orleans, and Austin, as well as neighboring rival Hartford — to the comments made by those who compiled a list of finalists and eventually chose Springfield.

Indeed, consider these remarks made to BusinessWest by Jeff Etzkin, an event planner hired by the Big I to scout and then recommend sites for the 2018 show.

“The casino was definitely a factor in this decision — in fact, if it wasn’t for the casino, Springfield would not have been a consideration,” said Etzkin, president of Etzkin Events, adding that there was sentiment to bring the 2018 event to the Northeast, and Springfield emerged as the best, most reasonable option.

There was more from Etzkin. “It’s not just the casino, though,” he explained. “It really helps that Springfield is changing certain aspects of its downtown to be more amenable to events like this. It’s the restaurants, the tourist activities … the whole package.”


Go HERE for a list of Meeting & Convention Facilities in Western Mass.


And there was still more. “We looked at this as an opportunity to get there before everyone discovers Springfield and the prices go up,” said Etzkin, adding that, while there was a tinge of humor in his voice, he was dead serious with that comment.

When — and even whether — event planners really start discovering Springfield and the prices do start to rise in dramatic fashion remains to be seen. But there are some strong signs that Springfield is emerging as a more desirable destination for gatherings of various types and sizes — from jugglers to Scrabble players; rowing coaches to women Indian Motorcycle riders (all scheduled to come here over the next 24 months), and that news of the city’s progress, not just with the casino, will prompt more groups to put Springfield and this region in the mix.

“I think people are going to be giving Springfield a harder look given the fact that we’re going to have this massive new attraction right smack in the middle of downtown that’s getting a lot of press, be it the parking garage going up or the Gaming Commission coming to town, or churches being moved,” said Mary Kay Wydra, director of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB). “The press is shedding a lot of light on the city, and as these groups make decisions, many are going to be saying, ‘this is a really cool city to check out now.’”

MGM’s planned opening in the summer of 2018

MGM’s planned opening in the summer of 2018 played a key role in the decision of ‘Big I’ officials to bring their convention to Springfield.

Wydra said this region has always had — and always sold — what the bureau calls the three ‘A’s. These would be ‘affordability,’ ‘accessibility,’ and either ‘abundant attractions’ or ‘all those attractions,’ depending on who’s doing the talking. Now, it can add a ‘C’ for MGM’s $950 million casino and perhaps a ‘V’ for vibrancy.

And all those letters should put the city in a different bracket when it comes to competing for events.

“We usually compete against Des Moines or Little Rock or other third-tier cities if we’re talking about a national search,” she explained. “Now, we’re going head-to-head with Chicago and Atlanta; how great is that?”

For this issue and its focus on meetings and conventions, BusinessWest takes a look at some of those events on the books for Greater Springfield, and also at why all signs are pointing to much more of the same.

Show Time

Mike Sullivan says the International Jugglers’ Assoc. (IJA), which he currently serves as a site consultant, generally has no problem finding cities that have the various facilities and amenities it requires for its annual festival, including a large performance venue — the group prefers grand, Vaudeville-era halls, like the historic, 90-year-old Plaza Theatre in El Paso, site of this year’s festival. Likewise, it can easily find cities that would fit the broad description of ‘affordable.’

What is has long struggled with, however, is finding locales that can effectively check both boxes. But Springfield can, and that pretty much sums up why between 500 and 750 jugglers — professionals and hobbyists alike — will be descending on the City of Homes on July 18, 2018, although there is certainly more to the story.

Indeed, instead of the jugglers finding Greater Springfield, this region (and, in this case, the GSCVB) essentially found the jugglers. It did so as part of a broader effort to bring more sports-related groups and events to the area. (That initiative also explains why the U.S. Rowing Convention is coming to Springfield in December.)

As Sullivan relates the story, the IJA, as a member of the National Assoc. of Sports Commissions, posted its festival requirements to that group’s website. Sullivan also staged a webinar, during which he explained what it would take for a city to host the festival. Among those who took it in was Alicia Szenda, director of sales for the GSCVB, who quickly noted that Springfield fit the bill; she crafted a proposal that eventually became the winning bid.

But while strong outreach helped prompt the jugglers and rowing coaches to sign on the dotted line, it’s clear that more groups are discovering Greater Springfield — through referrals, hard research, news coverage, or some of those all-important local connections.

There were more than a few of the latter involved with the Big I and its decision, said Wydra, noting, in the interest of full disclosure, that Joseph Leahy, a principal with Springfield-based Leahy & Brown Insurance and Realty, is slated to be sworn in as chairman of the national organization at that 2018 convention.

But Leahy & Brown’s Allen Street address was certainly not enough by itself to tip the scales in favor of Springfield, said Etzkin, who returned to that ‘package’ he mentioned earlier, the broader Western Mass. region, one that offers attractive options for members who bring their families — and there are many of those.

Alicia Szenda

Alicia Szenda says many forms of progress in Springfield — from Union Station to new restaurants downtown — are making the city a more viable option for meetings and conventions.

Springfield’s ongoing efforts to revitalize its downtown helped bring the city into a discussion that usually involves much larger cities — including Chicago (where the convention will be held this year and next) and previous locations New Orleans, San Antonio, and Minneapolis — although smaller destinations, such as Savannah for 2019, have also been chosen.

But he made it clear that the casino was a huge factor in the decision, as evidenced by those earlier comments as well as his unique insight into the probable schedule for the casino’s opening (nothing approaching what would be considered official has been announced), which is very close to the chosen date for the start of the 2018 convention.

“There’s been talk of a soft opening and also a date for a hard opening,” he said, adding that all indications are the casino will be open when the Big I arrives on Aug. 22. “They were talking about September, but from what I understand, everything is moving along a little quicker.”

It Wasn’t a Toss-up

The casino did not play any significant role in the IJA’s decision to come to Springfield, said Sullivan, adding that, while his group was aware the city was soon to be home to such a facility and that it might be ready by the time they arrived, it did not really enter into the decision-making process.

What did, however, were some or all of those 3 ‘A’s Wydra mentioned, and especially the one that stands for affordability.

“No one gets paid to go to a juggling convention — everyone is spending their own money,” he explained. “We’re looking for very reasonable hotel-room rates, and we’re looking for rental rates on performance venues that would also be reasonable. A lot of cities that would be perfect for us, that have perfect facilities, and are very reachable by air, would also be perfect for lots of other groups, which means they’re busy, their rates are high, and we can’t afford them.

“We’re happiest when we’re in small cities where there’s a nice, small downtown with all the ingredients,” he went on, adding that, while the festival has been to large cities such Portland, Ore., Quebec City, and even Los Angeles, the IJA clearly prefers smaller communities such as Winston-Salem, N.C.

But the facilities certainly played a role in the decision, noted Sullivan, adding that Springfield Symphony Hall, similar in age and size to El Paso’s Plaza Theatre, fits the bill for the Las Vegas-style shows that are staged nightly during the festival/convention and are a big part of the gathering.

There are also seminars, open juggling 24 hours a day, competitions (attendees vie for the coveted gold medal and the accompanying $10,000 prize), and workshops, at which beginners and so-called hobbyists can learn from some of the most celebrated names in this entertainment genre.

“It would be like going to basketball camp and getting tips on your jump shot from Michael Jordan and Larry Bird,” said Sullivan, who has been attending the festival for a quarter-century now, adding that there are typically more than 100 of these workshops during the course of the event, some running several hours in length.

Wydra noted that the combination of attractive venues and affordability is a potent mix, one that, with the addition of the casino, should help Springfield turn more heads, especially those on event planners and convention schedulers looking to bring an event to the Northeast.

Both Sullivan and Etzkin said the groups they represented were definitely leaning in that direction, and as they mulled options in that geographic quadrant, Springfield emerged as an attractive option.

“We like to work the event into a location that’s convenient for people who want to attend the conference from a particular volunteer’s location,” said Etzkin, referring, in this case, to Leahy.

“Boston is a very expensive location, and Hartford, while it’s good from a flight perspective, it’s not exactly a great site for a conference,” he went on, using language that certainly bodes well for this region moving forward.

The Latest Word

Melissa Brown acknowledged that Scrabble is not exactly a spectator sport.

“It’s kind of like watching paint dry — some people will sit in on a match for a little while, but then they’ll get bored and leave,” she said, speaking, quite obviously, from experience gathered as a participant in events staged by the World Game Players Organization (WGPA).

The group will be taking its so-called Word Cup (yes, that is indeed a play on words) to Springfield in roughly 13 months, and while there won’t be many on hand at the Sheraton Springfield to watch, the competition, involving an anticipated 100 players, will be keen.

As was, in many ways, the contest for the right to stage this event, said Brown, a long-time member of that group and its current member liaison, who relocated to Wilbraham from the Midwest several years ago and was part of the team that chose Springfield to join cities such as Reno, Denver, and Phoenix (this year) as hosts for the event.

She said organizers were looking for some specific amenities — quiet spaces for the games and playing areas close to restrooms, because every minute counts (yes, players are on the clock for these games). But mostly, it was looking for a site in the Northeast as a way to help build membership there, and a location that was reasonably priced.

“We’ve had some smaller events in the Northeast, but this is the first time we’ve taken the Word Cup there,” she said, adding that she was the one who compiled the research given to those who made the final decision and chose Springfield over Detroit, Charlotte, and other contenders.

When asked what put the city over the top, she said it was a combination of factors, including everything from the cooperation of the GSCVB to the amenities at the Sheraton. “All around, it just seemed like the best option.”
It is the unofficial goal of the bureau to convince more groups to think in those terms, said Szenda, adding that a variety of forces are coming together to make this task easier.

These include more hotel rooms — new facilities have opened in Springfield and Northampton recently, pushing the number of ‘room nights,’ as they’re called, to 1,125 in Springfield and 4,000 in the region— as well as the casino and recognized progress in the region.

Together, these forces are getting Greater Springfield more looks, as they say in this business.

“The insurance group said they might not have looked at Springfield five years ago, and they’re not alone in that sentiment,” she said. “But because of what’s happening, not just with the casino, but with Union Station and the Chinese subway-car manufacturer and other things that happening, they are looking.”

Etzkin confirmed those observations, noting that, while Springfield still has a ways to go when it comes to having an A-list reputation within the galaxy of meeting and convention planners, perceptions of the city and region are certainly changing for the better.

“I was serious about getting there before the area gets too well-known and the prices go up,” he told BusinessWest. “That part of Massachusetts is beautiful, and people are going to want to go there.”

Staying Power

Despite Etzkin’s expectation that prices in Springfield may soon start to rise, Wydra believes that, for the foreseeable future, anyway, the city and region will be able to boast all three of those aforementioned ‘A’s.

And with the addition of MGM’s casino and growing vibrancy in Springfield’s downtown, the package that attracted insurance agents, jugglers, and Scrabble players should appeal to more of those who plan and stage events.

It won’t happen overnight, but it appears certain there will be, well, more overnights in the area’s future. And that means a new day is dawning for the region and its tourism and hospitality sectors.

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

Chamber Corners Departments

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.amherstarea.com

(413) 253-0700

• June 8: New-member reception, 5-7 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott, 423 Russell St., Hadley. This is an opportunity to showcase your own business, learn from new members, and network with a variety of individuals from other businesses. Enjoy an evening with music, light fare, and cheer while you get acquainted with more than 60 new members. Tickets: free for new members who joined between January and June 2016, $10 for other members, $15 for non-members.

• June 16-19: Taste of Amherst, on the Amherst Common, Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-4 p.m. This is a wonderful way to showcase your restaurant or business. Come join in the fun with more than 20,000 attendees throughout the weekend.
 For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 253-0700 or [email protected]

• July 18: 13th annual Golf Tournament, at Hickory Ridge Golf Course, Pomeroy Lane, Amherst. Schedule: 10 a.m.: full-swing pro clinic; 10:30 a.m.: registration, putting contest, light lunch; noon: shotgun start, scramble format; 5 p.m.: social hour, cash bar; 6 p.m.: dinner, awards ceremony, live auction. Hole-in-one, longest drive, closest-to-pin contests. Cost: $135 per player, $540 per foursome.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• June 3: Lunch & Learn: Protecting Your Data, 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m., at the Residence Inn by Marriott, 500 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Have some lunch from Hamel’s Catering and learn about protecting your data. Patrick Lostaglia, owner of Data Safe Guard, will discuss backup disaster recovery plans, why your data should be encrypted, what is PCI and why you should be compliant, basic law and compliance for the data you use, why anti-virus is not enough, and how to avoid cybercriminals. Cost: $15 for members, $20 for non-members.

• June 22: Three-chamber Networking Event, 5-7 p.m., at Hadley Farms Meeting House, 41 Russell St., Hadley. The Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, and South Hadley & Granby Chamber of Commerce will host “A Networking Night in the Tropics,” featuring island/beach music by Rum & Steel. Taste the food of the islands. Cost: $15 for members, $20 cash for non-members. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 594-2101.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• June 6: Move the Mountain networking event, 5-7 p.m., at Holyoke Country Club, Country Club Road, Holyoke. Networking collaboration between the Greater Easthampton and Greater Holyoke chambers. Refreshments and door prizes. Cost: $10 for members in advance, $15 for non-members and walk-ins. Tickets are available through the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce at 33 Union St., Easthampton, (413) 527-9414 (or register online at easthamptonchamber.org); or the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce at 177 High St., Holyoke; (413) 534-3376.

• June 17: Second annual Speaker Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m., at Williston Northampton School, 19 Payson Place, Easthampton. The keynote speaker is U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. How are your local business concerns being discussed at the federal level? Register online at easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber at (413) 527-9414

• July 14: Networking By Night, 5-7 p.m., at the Oxbow Marina Sports Center, Old Springfield Road, Northampton. Register online at easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber at (413) 572-9414.

• July 29: 32nd annual Golf Tournament at Southampton Country Club, 329 College Highway. Shotgun start at 9 a.m. Sign up early and save. Register online at easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

holyokechamber.com

(413) 534-3376

• June 3: Holyoke Chamber Day with the Valley Blue Sox, Mackenzie Stadium, Beech Street, Holyoke. Stop by the chamber office at 177 High St., Holyoke to pick up complimentary tickets.

• June 6: Move the Mountain networking event, 5-7 p.m., at Holyoke Country Club, Country Club Road, Holyoke. Networking collaboration between the Greater Easthampton and Greater Holyoke chambers. Refreshments and door prizes. Cost: $10 for members in advance, $15 for non-members and walk-ins. Tickets are available through the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce at 177 High St., Holyoke, (413) 534-3376; or the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce at 33 Union St., Easthampton, (413) 527-9414.

• June 8: Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Business Person of the Year Awards, 5:30-9 p.m., at the Yankee Pedlar, 1866 Northampton St., Holyoke. Board elections, networking, food stations, announcement of 2016 Business Person of the Year and the Volunteer Award winner, and celebration of local legacy businesses. Cost: $35 for members, $40 for non-member guests. The public is invited to attend. Register online at holyokechamber.com.

• June 15: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., at the Renaissance Manor on Cabot, 279 Cabot St., Holyoke. Mix and mingle with your friends and colleagues at this casual networking event. Refreshments and 50/50 raffle. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members and walk-ins. Sign up at holyokechamber.com.

• July 13: Chamber Coffee Buzz Morning Networking, 7:30-8:30 a.m., at Ruwac Inc., 54 Winter St., Holyoke. Jump-start the day with this opportunity to meet business and community leaders while enjoying coffee and a light breakfast at this respected world leader in industrial vacuum systems. This event is free to members of the business community and is sponsored by Lyon & Fitzpatrick LLP.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com

(413) 584-1900

• June 1: June [email protected], 5-7 p.m., at Fort Hill Brewery. Sponsors: Advanced Restoration Group, Czelusniak Funeral Home, Delap Real Estate, Lia Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Northampton, New England Public Radio.

• June 3: “Microsoft Excel: Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts” workshop, 9-11 a.m., at Greenfield Savings Bank, 325A King St., Northampton. Presented by Pioneer Training. Cost: $35 for chamber members, $45 for non-members.

• June 9: “QuickBooks 101” workshop, 9-11 a.m., at Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St., Northampton. Presented by Pioneer Training. Reservations: Cost: $25 for members; $35 for non-members.

• July 13: July [email protected], 5-7 p.m., at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. Joint event with Northampton Area Young Professionals. Sponsors: Brain Analysis & Neurodevelopment Center, Highview of Northampton, the Healing ZONE Therapeutic Massage.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• June 2: “Everyday Ways to Protect Your Body from Disease” workshop, 8:30-10 a.m., at the Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Presented by John Hoime, owner-practitioner, Alternative Health, Southwick. Refreshments will be served. Cost: free to chamber members, $30 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• June 6: Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Mayor Brian Sullivan, 8-9 a.m., at Tekoa Country Club, 459 Russell Road, Westfield. This event is free and open to the public. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• June 8: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., at Westfield Bank, 141 Elm St., Westfield. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to network, and bring your business cards. Refreshments will be served. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• June 13: “Wage & Hour Law Compliance” workshop, at Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Registration/networking, 8:30 a.m.; workshop, 9-10 a.m. Presented by Karina Schrengohst, attorney with Royal, P.C. Refreshments will be served. Cost: free to chamber members, $30 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• June 17: June Chamber Breakfast, at the the Ranch Golf Club, 100 Ranch Club Road, Southwick. Registration, 7 a.m.; breakfast, 7:20, a.m.; program begins, 7:50 a.m. Keynote Speaker: Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Guilluni. Platinum sponsor: Mestek Inc.; gold sponsor: Berkshire Bank; silver sponsor: First Niagara Bank; coffee bar sponsor: Spherion Staffing. Golf Special: chamber members who are registered for the breakfast can golf for $45 with a cart following the breakfast. Call the golf shop to reserve your spot and mention that you are a chamber member. 50/50 raffle to support two Citizen’s Scholarships. Tickets: $25 for members, $30 in advance for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• June 22: Three-chamber Networking Event, 5-7 p.m., at Hadley Farms Meeting House, 41 Russell St., Hadley. The Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, and South Hadley & Granby Chamber of Commerce will host “A Networking Night in the Tropics,” featuring island/beach music by Rum & Steel. Taste the food of the islands. Cost: $15 for members, $20 cash for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

SOUTH HADLEY & GRANBY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

shgchamber.com

(413) 532-6451

• June 22: Three-chamber Networking Event, 5-7 p.m., at Hadley Farms Meeting House, 41 Russell St., Hadley. The Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, and South Hadley & Granby Chamber of Commerce will host “A Networking Night in the Tropics,” featuring island/beach music by Rum & Steel. Taste the food of the islands. Cost: $15 for members, $20 cash for non-members. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 532-6451.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• June 1: [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., at Springfield College, Flynn Campus Union, 263 Alden St., Springfield. Honoring the 2016 Richard J. Moriarty Citizen of the Year, Patrick Leary. Featuring motivational speaker Norm Bossio. Celebrating the successes of the Springfield Regional Chamber’s 2015-16 year and electing chamber board of directors. Sponsored by MGM Springfield and United Personnel. Coffee bar sponsor: Wolf & Co., P.C. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for general admission. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• June 28: Springfield Regional Chamber Lunch ‘n’ Learn, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., hosted by Lattitude, 1388 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. “The New Overtime Rule — What Is It, and How Will It Impact Me?” Guest Speaker: Timothy Murphy, attorney with Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C. Cost: $25 for members, $35 for general admission. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• July 28: Chamber Golf Tournament, at the Ranch Golf Club, 65 Sunnyside Road, Southwick. Registration/course-side lunch: 11 a.m. to noon; shotgun start: 12:30 p.m.; dinner immediately following. Sponsored by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, Florence Bank, Chicopee Savings Bank, and the MassMutual Center. Cost: $600 per foursome, $160 per individual golfer. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• June 1: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Storrowton Tavern, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Free for chamber members, $10 for non-members. Event is open to the public; non-members must pay at the door. 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 e-mail [email protected]

• June 23: Annual Meeting, 7-9 a.m., at Chez Josef, Agawam. The event will kick off with the welcoming of new chairman Brian Houle and the incoming WRC board of directors. Guest speaker: Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. Cost: $35 for chamber members, $40 for non-members. For more information and for tickets, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

Cover Story Restaurants Sections

Plenty to Chew On

This Year’s Restaurant Guide Reflects a Diverse Dining Scene

RestaurantGuideSecDPBy all accounts, restaurant are flourishing across Western Mass., a region that offers nearly endless choices when it comes to cuisine, atmosphere, price range … you name it. For this special section, the 2016 Restaurant Guide, we venture to three establishments — with calling cards ranging from solar-brewed beer to classic French cuisine to singing servers — that clearly reflect that variety. Bon appetit!

Restaurants Sections

Star Power

Andrew Mankin

Andrew Mankin, owner and brewer, says a ‘green’ operating philosophy has helped Barrington Brewery & Restaurant create a strong brand.

Andrew Mankin recalls that when he and business partner Gary Happ were crunching the numbers regarding their planned use of solar-heated water for their brew-pub establishment in Great Barrington, what they saw gave them reason to pause.

But not for very long.

“We decided that at some point you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is and do something,” he recalled, as he talked about the system they were contemplating — one that would coincide with, and be a key element in, the construction of a banquet facility that would complement their already well-established brewery and restaurant on busy Route 7. “When you’re putting up a new building, you’re spending a lot of money on all kinds of things, so we thought, ‘why not something that’s environmentally friendly?’”

That ‘something’ has turned out to be an investment that has paid off in a number of ways — from dramatically reducing natural-gas bills to giving Barrington Brewery & Restaurant a branding identity — ‘solar-brewed beer’ — that is not only earth-friendly, but helps generate business as well.

“People will come in, point to those words, and say, ‘what does this mean?’ said Mankin, who, as the company’s owner/brewer, is not only willing but well-equipped to explain it all. (Usually, the dissertation includes handing the individual one of the informative placemats the company uses that not only detail the solar hot-water use but explains the brewing process in five easy-to-follow steps.)

Co-owner Gary Happ with his daughter, Chelsea

Co-owner Gary Happ with his daughter, Chelsea, who is managing the operation’s banquet facility.

Overall, the sun-heated water gives many environmentally conscious individuals and families a reason to turn off Route 7 and into the large converted barns that comprise this operation. Or another reason, to be more precise.

And there must be several, said Happ, now a nearly 40-year veteran of the ultra-challenging hospitality industry, noting that, while the beers brewed at that location — labels that include Black Bear Stout, Hopland Pale Ale, Berkshire Blond, and Ice Glen IPA, along with a host of seasonal offerings — are a huge draw, there are hundreds of microbrews available in this region. In short, the food has to be good, too.

Barrington Brewery & Restaurant has that part of the equation covered with a menu, classified generally as ‘pub fare,’ that includes everything from barbecued ribs to shepherd’s pie to spinach and eggplant casserole.

To say this establishment effectively blends beer and food is not just idle talk, Happ noted. Indeed, those aforementioned brews are included in the recipes for menu items ranging from the chili to the blue cheese dressing to the famous (it’s been profiled in Bon Appetit a few times) chocolate stout cake.

“We try to keep everything simple, and we make everything here,” he explained. “It’s not a fancy, expensive menu, but it’s good, fresh food.”

The interior’s décor

The interior’s décor can be described with one word: beer.

As for that aforementioned banquet facility, named Crissey Farm, it has become a solid addition to the venture, said Mankin, noting that, in a region studded with venues at both the high and low end, this 200-seat room has become an attractive middle-of-the road option.

“We throw a very good wedding for a very fair price,” he explained, adding that the facility is drawing its share of other types of events as well, including corporate outings and meetings. “It’s an attractive alternative for people looking for something in the middle.”

For this issue and its annual Restaurant Guide, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Barrington Brewery and Restaurant, where the bright ideas include, but are certainly not limited to, the water-heating process.

Lager than Life

The sign

The sign that greets patrons says it all.

It doesn’t take much time, or many words, for that matter, to describe the décor and the mood at this establishment. ‘Beer’ will do just fine.

It’s brewed on the site, served on tap at the tavern portion of the eatery, sold in pint bottles (the partners distribute to a few other locations as well), explained on the placemats, and reflected on the walls — all of them.

There are pictures of old breweries, tavern signs from a long time ago — one declares that something called ‘white rose special’ costs 20 cents a bottle — and glasses, coasters, and trays bearing the names of brewers from the present, past, and distant past.

While referencing the huge display of coasters — Mankin has no idea how many there are on display or in storage because there’s no room left to display them — he pointed to a couple of his favorites: Dog & Parrott and Ridley’s Old Bob.

Those were brewed in England, which is where Mankin cut his teeth in this art and science. He was a self-described home brewer some 30 years ago, when he had a chance to learn from the masters at the Vaux Brewery in Sunderland in Northeast England, near the border with Scotland.

Upon returning home, his thoughts turned increasingly toward making beer a career, not a hobby. And when he met Happ, things started to come together.

Happ, then a partner in the hugely successful 20 Railroad Street restaurant in Great Barrington’s downtown, was selling his interest in that entity and eyeing a new entrepreneurial adventure. Mankin was looking for his first.

They decided to blend their resources and talents and opened Barrington Brewery & Restaurant on Route 7 in what’s known as the Jennifer House Complex, which featured antique shops and other forms of retail.

Over the past two decades, this venture has become a key component in a broad revitalization effort that has seen Great Barrington evolve from a sleepy Berkshires town “where the sidewalks were rolled up at 8 o’clock,” said Happ, to a true year-round destination.

The town’s rebirth has included everything from new shops and restaurants to the stunning $9 million renovation of the 111-year-old Mahaiwe (pronounced Muh-hay-we) Theatre. Now known as the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, it presents music, dance, theater, opera, talks, and movie classics (The Graduate is playing on May 21).

With this new vibrancy has come both opportunity and challenge in the form of greater competition, said Happ, adding that Barrington Brewery & Restaurant has thrived by drawing both local residents and the tourists that now come all 12 months of the year, and through creation of a niche with many elements.

Food (moderately priced) and beer are obvious ingredients, both figuratively and literally, he explained, but the ‘green’ factor is also a key part of the equation.

And there’s more to it the solar hot-water system, which, when installed, was the largest such facility in the region. Indeed, the venture buys its power from Pine Island Farm in Sheffield, a partnership dairy operation that boasts what’s known as an anaerobic digester facility, in which the methane from animal waste is converted into electricity and sold to National Grid.

“When we write a check for our energy at the end of the month, we don’t make it out to National Grid, we make it out to Pine Island Farm,” said Happ, with a strong dose of satisfaction and pride in his voice. “From the beginning, we’ve always tried to run a green business as best we could, and we’re continuing down that path.”

The next step, already on the drawing board and well into the development stage, is to create a photovoltaic system on a two-acre parcel the partners recently acquired and generate enough power to operate both the restaurant and Crissey Farm.

Unfortunately, the state has thrown a roadblock of sorts in front of what Happ called the “crown jewel of our greenness.” Apparently, there is a cap on photovoltaic systems of this type, and it has been reached, he went on, making it clear that this was a source of great frustration.

“Here are two guys trying to do the right thing, run a good, green business, and leave a small footprint, and who’s holding us up? The state,” he said with noticeable exasperation. “We’re ready to go.”

Crissey Farm

Crissey Farm, the banquet facility at Barrington Brewery & Restaurant, is making a name for itself.

Whether the state eases restrictions on solar-power systems and allows the partners to proceed remains to be seen, although both men believe this matter involves the question ‘when?’ and not ‘if?’

In the meantime, they will continue making beer with solar-heated water and press on with their efforts to grow the banquet side of the business.

Off to a solid start, 200-seat Crissey Farm, opened just as the Great Recession was starting in the summer of 2008, is creating a niche in its own right, said Mankin.

“We have a wedding booked every weekend right into October,” he explained. “Over the past few years, business has really picked up.

Icing on the Cake

Mankin told BusinessWest that Barrington Brewery isn’t shy about sharing the recipe for its famous chocolate stout cake. It’s already been published in Bon Appetit, he noted, and staff at the restaurant will hand patrons a copy if they ask for one.

This willingness to share trade secrets is somewhat rare in the restaurant business, he acknowledged, but the company isn’t worried about losing business from the practice.

“It’s not easy to make it — there’s a lot that goes into this,” he said, referring to the stout cake.

But those exact words could be used to describe the restaurant industry itself. The Barrington Brewery has succeeded by creating an effective niche — one that involves price, beer, food — and a green philosophy.

All that gives this establishment star power — in all kinds of ways.

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

Restaurants Sections

Gourmand’s Delight

Paul Hathaway

Paul Hathaway takes pride in creating unique dishes that feature produce from local farms.

Chez Albert is no ordinary French restaurant. But then, Paul Hathaway, who opened the award-winning bistro in Amherst after moving to Western Mass. from Boston 11 years ago, is far from an ordinary chef.

The self-taught food connoisseur and culinary artist makes everything in his restaurant from scratch and has carefully cultivated relationships with local farmers who provide him with their freshest seasonal produce. As a result, the menu changes at least six times a year, although seasonal dishes do accompany staples that customers choose repeatedly at the popular eatery nestled downtown on North Pleasant Street.

“We make our own pickles, grind our own beef, cure our own hams, make all of our desserts from scratch, and stay away from fillers and preservatives,” Hathaway told BusinessWest. “A lot of focus is placed on presentation. People eat with their eyes first, so we try to make things appetizing visually and by using flavor. We focus on utilizing local ingredients to the utmost in unique ways and pickle, cure, or preserve them so the colors or flavors pop in different dishes.

“Many people think French food is fancy, but they don’t realize it’s about using basic techniques,” he went on. “It’s a low, slow style of cooking that allows you to get the best flavor out of whatever you cook.”

Although the menu’s offerings rival dishes in restaurants known for fine dining — current seasonal plates include crab and smoked trout galette with spicy rouille, rabbit ragout with a farm cheese pierogi, and entrées such as pork confit with creamy polenta and a sweet glaze — the mood at Chez Albert was designed to be intimate, yet informal.

“We offer a relaxed, elegant atmosphere which is not stuffy; service is delivered with a smile, and we are always looking for ways to make people happy and get them to try new dishes such as rabbit or oxtail,” Hathaway said, adding they also serve sandwiches and burgers for those with less-adventurous palates.

Amy Paul

Amy Paul says Chez Albert will begin offering wine dinners this summer, which will pair fine wines with foods from different cultures that could range from Vietnamese to Thai or North African.

His wife, Amy Paul, who runs the front end of the bistro and is its wine connoisseur, says music played during lunch and dinner ranges from soul to funk to jazz, which helps create a party-like atmosphere, especially on weekends, in the specially designed eatery with soft lighting that emanates from copper fixtures designed by a local artist.

Frequent patrons include professors from area colleges, as well as people from the neighborhood who sometimes have lunch and dinner at the bistro the same day.

The restaurant seats 48, with 20 additional seats on the patio, where lush flowering plants thrive during the summer. Events at Chez Albert range from business dinners to birthdays and rehearsal dinners, and reservations are suggested as the mainstay bistro is a popular spot and has earned accolades; it was feted with Trip Advisor’s 2015 Certificate of Excellence and named Best in the Valley by a Valley Advocate reader’s poll last year.

Honed Talents

Hathaway loved food as a child, enjoyed baking, and looked forward to holiday dinners with family and friends that featured Italian, Polish, Irish, and other ethnic cuisine.

His culinary career began when he got a job at Seaside Restaurant at Faneuil Hall in Boston during his teenage years. But he didn’t become passionate about cooking until he left that eatery and went to work for Davio’s Italian Steakhouse in Cambridge.

At that point, he began to work his way up the ladder and hone his skills in some of the Hub’s best restaurants. “I had a real thirst and drive to learn new techniques and got my chops under some fine Boston chefs,” Hathaway recalled, explaining that he honed his skills under celebrity chef Todd English, James Beard Award-winning chef Jody Adams, and chef-owner Paul O’Connell of Chez Henri in Boston.

Hathaway became a chef at Pomodoro in the city’s North End, then co-owned Washington Square Tavern before he moved to Western Mass. and opened Chez Albert.

“French food has always been farm-to-table, and there are so many local purveyors and farmers here that people sometimes take them for granted. But I was young, ambitious, and excited about the opportunity that exists in Amherst and was inspired to do something in the European style,” he said, adding that he initially opened Chez Albert on 27 South Pleasant St. in a former bank that screamed ‘old French bistro,’ because it had high ceilings, marble floors, and a feeling frequently found in Paris eateries where people count on seeing friends and enjoying good food.

After the bistro became established, Paul was introduced to Hathaway through a friend. She began working for him, and they fell in love, got married, and had a daughter, followed by twin boys.

Paul’s need to focus on the children meant she had to curtail her hours at the bistro, but it continued to flourish, and four years ago when the lease ran out, the couple decided to move Chez Albert to its current location at 178 North Pleasant St.

The new location doubled their space; it took a major renovation to get it the way they wanted, and they often worked late at night. Great attention was paid to detail, and Hathaway hired local artists to design unique copper light fixtures, paint a mural on the bar, and create custom woodwork and cushioned seats throughout much of the interior.

However, his food has always been the biggest draw, and bar manager Michelle Kacich says patrons appreciate the fact that the menu offers French dishes that can be difficult to find locally, such as the popular appetizer pate de foie and the equally popular entrée pork confit. Although the menu does change with the seasons, some items are served throughout the year, such as escargot and Chez salad, made from local field greens, French green beans, dried cherries, shaved red onions, and crispy duck comfit tossed in a champagne vinaigrette and topped with shaved, hard-boiled eggs and croutons.

Hathaway keeps his focus on farm-to-table cooking, but it can be difficult during the winter, so he makes exceptions. But robust soups and other dishes that include a variety of root vegetables have become mainstays, and with the exception of daily specials, the menu doesn’t undergo much change until early March when spring brings freshly picked arugula, spinach, and radishes to the table.

Some patrons enjoy eating at the bar where they watch soccer and other sports on the flat-screen TV. The cocktail menu features signature drinks created by Kacich, and whenever she gets requests, she makes customized libations to suit palates that prefer sweet, savory, sour, or bitter tastes. Customer favorites include a pear ginger martini and a ‘honey bee,’ which is made from cardamom-infused bourbon, citrus, honey, and bitters.

Changing Tastes

Chez Albert

Chez Albert’s offerings have expanded over the years beyond French cuisine to encompass Asian, Italian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern influences.

Hathaway believes it’s important for businesses to evolve, and will make changes this summer that may include new artwork.

“We’re not erasing the old, but improving what we have built on,” he noted. “Every business needs to adapt and evolve over time.”

Prix fixe wine dinners that pair wines with foods from different cultures will be offered during the summer, which is a time when business tends to slow down. Since a similar dinner that features five to seven courses is sold out every New Year’s Eve, Paul expects them to be popular.

“My husband has a following, and people get excited when he cooks something other than French,” she told BusinessWest, explaining that, over the years, the menu has grown to include dishes with Asian, Italian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern influences. The wine list has also expanded; in addition to French, there are Spanish, Italian, and American wines, with more than 10 varieties served by the glass.

Customers appreciate being served by Emmanuel Proust, who comes from France and has worked at Chez Albert since it opened. Paul says many see him as the face of the restaurant, so they had a painting commissioned of him dressed as Napoleon that hangs above a cozy niche of copper-topped tables.

“We’re a playful group of people, and we do our best to make people feel like family,” she noted on a recent evening, as customers began filtering in, the music picked up, and the bistro came to life.

Restaurants Sections

Singing for Your Supper

Tony Serafino, with his business partner, Dawn Doyle

Tony Serafino, with his business partner, Dawn Doyle, says he wanted to create a destination, not just a restaurant.

As a 30-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Tony Serafino wasn’t interested in just another eatery when he considered opening the Grill at the Boulevard.

That’s why diners enjoying a dinner of pasta, steak, or any number of other options on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night are treated to the spectacle of a server — or several — making their way to the front of this cozy establishment on Page Boulevard in Springfield, picking up a microphone, and belting out a few standards.

“When I opened this business, I wanted to try to recreate the Copa on a much smaller scale,” he said, referring to the Copacabana, the famed New York nightclub known through the decades for its array of live entertainment.

“I had visions of waiters like in Goodfellas, leading people through the crowd and sitting them in front while Frankie Valli was singing — not that we have Frankie Valli, but you get the idea. I wanted to give it that extra thing needed to make this location a destination. We weren’t going to survive off neighborhood business alone — the volume just isn’t there. To bring people to us, to become a destination point, we needed something different.”

The Grill’s success since he and his business partner, Dawn Doyle, opened on Super Bowl weekend in February testifies to the appeal of the ‘singing servers,’ as they’re known, but also to a varied lunch and dinner menu made from scratch. “Everyone says the food is the greatest,” said Serafino, who’s also the executive chef. “That’s one thing that’s really helped build us and kept us going.”

Serafino’s previous executive-chef positions included stints at restaurants owned by long-time friend Jim Efantis, who also owns the building that now houses the Grill and an adjoining bar, Rory Fitzgerald’s. The space next to the bar had been vacant for several months, and, truth be told, it needed plenty of work. But he saw some potential.

“I looked at the space and thought it could be a decent lunch, dinner, and breakfast space,” he told BusinessWest, noting that breakfast is currently served on Sundays only, but that could change as CRRC Rail Corp., the Chinese rail-car manufacturer establishing its North American headquarters in Springfield, builds its factory across the street on Page Boulevard, intending to employ several hundred people.

“It’s a neighborhood bar, and the building is the oldest established boarding house in the city of Springfield,” he noted. “I was intrigued by what was going on across the street, and figured we’ll have a few months to get our feet wet.”

Vintage Sounds

The walls of the Grill are adorned with striking, hand-drawn portraits of mid-century musical icons, from Frank Sinatra to Patsy Cline to Louis Armstrong, a visual accompaniment to the music patrons will hear.

“One thing I’ve always wanted to do in my career was to create a small, Copacabana-type atmosphere, with singing waiters,” Serafino said. “And it’s really starting to come to fruition. The customers are having a ball. We try to keep it to the ’30s and ’40s musical theme, but if the crowd wants to hear something from Grease so they can all sing, we can do that too.”

So far, the concept has been a winner, he added. “People keep coming back, and we’re always seeing new faces, too.”

He said the development of the rail-car facility could usher in a weekday breakfast menu, but he wants to keep changes to a minimum at first. “I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, and you can’t have rabbit ears when people say, ‘do this’ or ‘do that.’ You have to stick to your business model and get it working before you start adding on.”

The walls of the Grill at the Boulevard

The walls of the Grill at the Boulevard are decorated with drawings of some of the musicians patrons might hear covered by the ‘singing servers.’

That lunch and dinner menu, which he characterizes as ‘upscale American bistro’ food, features pasta selections like tortellini alfredo and buffalo mac and cheese, beef dishes like New England pot roast and short ribs, and other options ranging from chicken francaise and chicken marsala to pork milanese — and, of course, daily specials.

“We are a scratch kitchen; everything from the bread on up is made right here,” Serafino told BusinessWest, adding that the menu, which features about 20 entrees and a dozen appetizers, is complemented by at least three specials a night.

“At any given time, it could be blackened New York strip, blackened Delmonico with gorgonzola fondue … the risotto here — and I’m going to toot my own horn, because I can — is the best you’ve ever had, and my customers will tell you that.

“We’re also very big on plate presentation,” he went on. “A lot of these kids [servers], they’re young and had to be trained in these little things that the customers appreciate. But we’re all about having fun with good food and good friends at a blue-collar price.”

The three nights a week when the servers sing are the most popular, he admitted. When the small house is packed and the music is playing, Serafino noted, the festive atmosphere gets contagious. “All these people have no idea who each other are, but as they’re walking out, they’re shaking hands like they’re best friends. They all get into it, and they have a ball.”

Next Steps

Those images are gratifying to Serafino, who believes his goal of establishing a destination restaurant on Page Boulevard — and maybe other regional locations — is a viable one.

“It’s doing well. I think we’re going to outgrow the place,” he said, adding that one expansion option in the future would be to keep the ‘Grill at’ name with each new establishment, as in Grill at Main Street or Grill at Forest Park, or wherever he might move the concept.

He admits some people are still getting accustomed to that concept, and his vision for the bistro menu. One woman became upset — and left — when the sides for her steak dinner didn’t include a baked potato, insisting that the Grill is a steakhouse, and steakhouses serve baked potatoes.

Fortunately, most patrons are happy that Serafino is following his own muse.

“Some people will try to label you as a specific kind of restaurant,” he said. “All I know is, a lot of people really enjoy it.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Mayor William Martin

Mayor William Martin says renovations are being made to transform the century-old former Lunt Silversmiths building into medical offices.

Mayor William Martin says projects that were started years ago are coming to fruition in Greenfield, and new ones are underway that will help the town continue down its path to independence, as well as addressing areas that need revitalization.

The Town Council just approved a $5 million bond to create a municipal Internet, phone, and data-services company called Greenfield Community Energy and Technology (GCET) that will be paid for by the company after it is established. Free Internet service is being provided on Main and High streets until the project is completed, thanks to a $500,000 pilot program, and 82% of voters voiced approval for GCET, which will provide the bandwidth and speed needed to stay competitive and attract new businesses, as the town has lost some in the past due to a lack of technology.

“We’ve been given the green light to move forward with this project,” Martin said, noting that, in addition, Greenfield Light and Power began operating as a municipal aggregation plan more than a year ago and brought not only lower-cost electricity to the community, but measures to procure the energy from renewable sources.

“The company went online Jan. 1 last year, and now all of our electricity is 100% green,” the mayor told BusinessWest, adding that the public utilities will increase the likelihood of retaining businesses, encouraging them to expand, and enticing new businesses to move to the community.

GCET will also allow the Greenfield School Department to administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam to public-school students; the test is aligned with Common Core standards and replaces the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test.

Other compelling reasons for installing an up-to-date fiber-optic system include the fact that Greenfield Community College has a downtown campus, and the town established the Mass. Virtual Academy at Greenfield five years ago on Main Street, the Commonwealth’s first virtual K-12 public school.

Public utility companies will play a vital role in maintaining the town’s independence, but they are only a part of other major initiatives taking place. The new, $66 million Greenfield High School opened its doors last September, and the new, $73 million Greenfield Trial Court is expected to open in October, benefiting downtown businesses and restaurants that suffered when construction began on the courthouse about three years ago and operations were temporarily moved several miles away.

Keeping Pace

Martin told BusinessWest that, although some people over the age of 50 still think of downtown Greenfield primarily as a place to do retail shopping, that business has moved to malls, which makes developing a new identity critical to the neighborhood’s future.

“Greenfield is fortunate to have maintained some of its luster and attractions that are extremely unique, such as the century-old Wilson’s department store and Gardens seven-screen cinema,” he said, noting that the downtown area also contains new ethnic restaurants as well as federal, state, and county agencies, including the courthouse, Baystate Franklin Medical Center, the county jail about a mile away, and the new, $14 million intermodal John W. Olver Transit Center that serves Franklin County Transit Authority bus routes and provides intercity bus service as well as a train station that houses Amtrak’s Vermonter line.

Greenfield Trial Court

The new, $60 million Greenfield Trial Court is expected to open in October and restore lost foot traffic to downtown businesses and restaurants.

In spite of these major institutions, the temporary courthouse move did affect a number of downtown businesses. However, some made accommodations to make up for revenue that was lost, including restaurants that started delivery services.

But when the Greenfield Trial Court opens next fall, the attorneys, courthouse employees, and people scheduled to appear in court are expected to help to restore the regional downtown center to its former vitality.

However, city officials are well aware that academics, government, education, and manufacturing are the fast-growing industries in the Pioneer Valley.

“So we’ve applied a special focus to advancing our downtown in these specific areas,” Martin said. “Downtowns of the future will be more service-oriented, with attention paid to the needs of individuals and families, rather than the wants. And an increase in pedestrian traffic will stimulate the development of other small businesses offering entertainment, food, boutique shopping, and social, cultural, and religious gatherings.”

He added that the town’s focus on healthcare is exemplified by the planned development of the former Sears Department store into medical, dental, and professional offices. The Lunt Silversmiths property about 1.5 miles from Main Street is also undergoing substantial reconstruction for conversion to a residential medical treatment center of 65 beds operated by Behavioral Health Network and other clinics, which complements Greenfield’s regional position as host to Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

“We’re actively soliciting medical groups,” Martin noted, adding that Patriot Care, which provides medical marijuana, has purchased the former American Legion building at 7 Legion St. just off Main Street, and is renovating it to suit its needs, and a former convenience store a half-mile from downtown was purchased by a cardiology practice with several hundred clients and is expected to open in June.

Other efforts are being made to enhance the downtown, and last month the Town Council approved spending $4.2 million to build a new community center on a one-acre site a block from Main Street, which will serve as a senior center during the day and offer space for classes in the evenings and on weekends.

Martin said a 100-year-old building on the site which currently houses the central office for the school department will be either demolished or converted to housing, and the office will be moved to the middle school.

In addition, a central communications center for the county is in the planning stages, and will be located in a strategic area on West Main Street, which Martin describes as “an area that requires stimulation and planning with both private and public development.

“It is blighted, so we want to fill it in and make it more attractive to stimulate further development,” he told BusinessWest, adding that a number of buildings there have already been demolished, redeveloped, or scheduled for major renovations or redevelopment.

Town officials are also working to create a village of tiny houses, which are growing in popularity, on a ¾-acre lot at 102-106 Deerfield St. A bike path is situated to the rear of the lot, and a formal bike lane was established on Route 2 after the town adopted the Complete Streets program, a transportation and design initiative that promotes safe travel for walkers and cyclers.

Greenfield also received a $177,000 grant to create a new dog park a short distance away at Green River Park off of Petty Plain Road, as well as a $400,000 PARC grant to install a new playground, signage, basketball court, and pickleball court and revamp the parking lot.

“It will be a big expansion,” Martin said. “Right now, the park only contains two softball fields, a basketball court, and a parking lot. But in addition to the improvements and expansion, next year we expect to create a mile-long walking and biking path around the park that will provide a quiet, meditative place where individuals and families people can take their kids to enjoy a walk by the river.”

Measures have also been taken to address flooding from the Green and Deerfield rivers on Deerfield Street, which have caused real problems in the past for Mohawk Meadow Golf Course and the Department of Public Works treatment plant. Streetscape and engineering work has been done to prevent future floods, including the installation of a unique set of storm doors on the DPW building.

Martin added, however, that condemned properties with flooded basements are still monitored, while fire ravaged-buildings have been removed.

Continued Growth

Greenfield hopes to build a new library to replace the current structure on Main Street, built in 1880, which lacks the space and modern amenities needed to keep pace with today’s needs. A state grant was procured to pay for a design, and a forum was held last month to inform residents about evolving plans.

Martin said the town’s finances are in good shape, and it was fortunate to be able to negotiate contracts with the unions that will allow it to maintain a steady cost of living, while reducing the increase over time.

Although the residential tax rate is high, he noted — Greenfield ranks fourth in the state in that category — valuations are low, so the average homeowner pays $3,934 in real-estate taxes, ranking 211th in the Commonwealth.

So, the combination of new projects and long-awaited ones coming to fruition has officials excited about the future.

“We’re looking to continuously strengthen our unique approach to reframing Main Street, and our next step will be to make it an attractive destination for young people with curious minds,” Martin said, adding that the town hopes to open an innovation center and a program that would allow businesses to share services.

He told BusinessWest that two manufacturing companies have plans to move Greenfield, and officials hope to build on the success of businesses that have been in town for years and work with the school department to shorten the path from graduation to job security.

“We believe that municipal investment will act as a catalyst for private investment and set the town up to repair and replace institutional buildings and needed infrastructure,” the mayor added, noting that new sewer and water lines and pump stations are being installed throughout the town.

Upcoming challenges will include a lack of parking when the new courthouse opens because it was built on a former parking lot.

“But we’re looking forward to the revival of foot traffic, which will help downtown businesses, although things won’t really settle down until construction on a new multi-storied garage is complete,” Martin continued, explaining that strategies to deal with the issue may include measures such as a shuttle service to distant parking lots.

But the town is keeping pace by installing utilities and technology that will keep it independent, attract young people, and offer businesses all they need to be successful in the years to come.

Daily News

WILBRAHAM — Friendly’s Ice Cream announced it has sold its retail ice-cream and manufacturing business to Texas-based Dean Foods Co. for $155 million in cash.

“We are thrilled at the prospects the Friendly’s Ice Cream acquisition brings to Dean Foods,” said Dean CEO Gregg Tanner. “Coupled with the momentum of Dean Foods’ current regional brands, the Friendly’s brand will be a catalyst in our strategy to grow our existing ice-cream business and branded portfolio. Friendly’s is an ideal complement to our other heritage brands across the country and fills a manufacturing and retail ice-cream void in our nationwide footprint.”

Dean Foods is the largest processor and direct-to-store distributor of fresh fluid milk and other dairy and dairy-case products in the U.S., the company said. Friendly’s Ice Cream had $166 million in net sales of ice cream to supermarkets in 2015.

After the transaction closes late in the second quarter of 2016, Dean Foods plans to continue producing ice cream at the current Friendly’s plant in Wilbraham, which employs about 200 people.

“Friendly’s ice cream strongly resonates with consumers throughout the Northeast,” Tanner added. “Very similar to the traditions shared by consumers who grew up enjoying our existing regional milk and ice-cream brands, such as Mayfield or Dean’s, we believe the Friendly’s Ice Cream brand represents and promotes what Dean Foods has built itself around and is a great fit in our branded portfolio. Dean Foods is rooted in the traditional goodness of dairy, making Friendly’s more than just a good business and financial opportunity.”

Added Friendly’s President and CEO John Maguire, “today marks a new chapter for Friendly’s retail and manufacturing ice-cream business. Dean Foods Company has recognized the growth momentum that Friendly’s retail ice cream has experienced over the last five years, and I am thrilled that Dean Foods will be the ongoing steward of the retail ice-cream business, led by the current experienced retail and creamery teams.”

Friendly’s Restaurants, which boasts 260 locations in the U.S., will continue to be owned and operated by an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners Inc. and will license use of the Friendly’s trademark to Dean’s under a license agreement entered into as part of the transaction.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy says MGM’s casino is just one of the many positive stories unfolding in Springfield.

Springfield is undergoing a $2.7 billion transformation, and although that number — and the current spate of progress — is dominated by MGM’s $900 million casino, a plethora of other exciting projects are underway.

Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said the city initiated a team effort four years ago with city officials and groups that include DevelopSpringfield, the Springfield Regional Chamber, the Business Improvement District (BID), and the Parking Authority, who convene on a regular basis to collaborate on projects and areas of focus that are proposed or underway.

Each group does its part, and an annual city report is designed to show the public the substantial investments being made.

They include the $88.5 million renovation of Union Station, which is 55% complete and slated to open at the end of the year.

“We all share the same vision,” said Jeffrery Ciuffreda, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber, adding that the chamber wrote numerous letters of support to help secure the funding to revitalize Union Station.

DevelopSpringfield has a number of projects taking place (more about that later), and a groundbreaking ceremony will be staged in the upcoming weeks for the new Innovation Center, which will serve as the cornerstone for the city’s newly designated Innovation District.

DevelopSpringfield President and CEO Jay Minkarah told BusinessWest the center will comprise about 18,000 square feet of space in two formerly vacant adjacent buildings at 270 and 276 Bridge St. and will become the new home of Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), which provides collaborative work space and services to help fledging businesses.

The center, which will be bordered downtown on the south by the MGM casino and on the north by Union Station, will include a café and rental space for young companies as they outgrow shared space at VVM.

The city partnered with DevelopSpringfield on the project, and the Commonwealth awarded a $2 million MassWorks grant to MassDevelopment to support development of the Innovation Center. The agency then sub-granted the funds to DevelopSpringfield. MassMutual also contributed $500,000 to the project, and generous contributions were received from the Beveridge Family Foundation and the Berkshire Bank Foundation.

In addition, the city will soon announce plans to redevelop and refurbish Stearns Square and Duryea Way, which connects to Union Station.

“We’ve developed a collective strategy and vision, and have had a great deal of good fortune,” Kennedy told BusinessWest, referring to winning the bid for the casino and securing funding for Union Station, which was accomplished with help from legislators. However, he and other key figures credit the city’s successful tornado recovery and rebuild efforts that began in the wake of the 2011 catastrophe with their recent success in obtaining funding for downtown projects.

And the plans continue to expand. “We would also like to create a dining district, and are actively working with the BID to create a loan program to encourage new restaurants,” Kennedy noted. “Our future revolves around culture, entertainment, innovation, and dining. MGM is an entertainment giant, and their offerings will be very attractive, but we need to couple them with innovation because that is where the economy is moving.”

Sizeable Investments

Successfully revitalized downtowns feature housing options as well as retail establishments, said Ciuffreda, and the chamber is excited about SilverBrick Lofts, a 200-unit complex with one- and two-bedroom apartments that are slowly being converted from subsidized housing into market-rate rentals. Renovations have been going on for about 18 months as leases expire, and many of the revamped units are already rented and feature exposed brick, reclaimed wood beams, arched windows, and high ceilings.

Union Station

The redevelopment of Union Station is being hailed as one of the keys to revitalization in Springfield’s downtown.

“They’re in an old mill that is actually three buildings in one, and runs from Worthington Street to Taylor Street; SilverBrick sits behind the new Innovation Center and is right across from the open tunnel that leads into Union Station,” Ciuffreda noted, adding that, in addition to housing, there are also a dozen retail spaces in the complex, mostly along Worthington and Main streets. One of them has been rented, and a new chocolate and coffee shop is expected to open there soon.

In addition, MGM’s contract includes establishing 54 new units of market-rate housing within a mile of the casino, and the (now-vacant) former Springfield School Department building on 195 State St. has been identified as a potential site.

“We’re starting to see the rebirth of the downtown with the Innovation District, the new market-rate housing, and Union Station opening in the fall,” Ciuffreda said. “The combination is resulting in a big change while MGM is being built.”

In addition, the Mass. Convention Center Authority has been working closely with the Springfield Parking Authority, and the Convention Center Authority will soon be issuing requests for proposals for a feasibility study to determine the future of the Civic Center Garage.

The Parking Authority has undertaken about $900,000 in structural repair work to the facility, but that patch is expected to be effective for only five years, so the study will show whether the garage should undergo more repairs or be replaced, given that MGM will build a garage to house 3,300 vehicles a few blocks away.

The city, Parking Authority, and Springfield Technical Community College also plan to conduct a study of the upper State Street area to determine the need and feasibility for developing a parking structure there to serve the growing needs of the neighborhood.

In addition, the city recently finished a $6 million reconstruction of Boston Road and has undertaken major work along the State Street corridor that serves as a major east-west connector with the downtown area.

Ciuffreda said real opportunity exists at Eastfield Mall on Boston Road, which has lost its anchor tenants in recent years, but continues to be a popular destination for area residents.

To serve their needs, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority has a bus service that runs along the corridor. A recent study identified it as a prime route to introduce Bus Rapid Transit to the region, which would originate at Union Station and run to Eastfield Mall — a 7.1-mile corridor that’s one of the most heavily traveled bus routes in the PVTA system, with more than 5,000 riders a day.

Over the coming months, PVTA will host neighborhood and public forums to share information on the system and get input about the service, which would include faster service and fare collection, exclusive bus lanes, and stations as opposed to bus stops.

Work is also going on in other parts of the city. The intersection at Sumner and Harkness avenues was completely reconfigured within the last year, and reconstruction of North Main Street to the Chicopee line has taken place.

A ribbon cutting will be staged next month in Forest Park for the new Eco Center, which is part of the tornado rebuild; construction on the senior center at Blunt Park is about to begin; and work to rebuild the South End Community Center will commence this summer.

Kennedy added that financing is being lined up to redevelop the Indian Motorcycle building in Mason Square, which is partially occupied, and construction should start by the end of the year. In addition, the North End Citizens Council also received a $50,000 state grant to create a master plan for the area.

Preserving History

Minkarah said one of DevelopSpringfield’s exciting projects is the creation of the $1.8 million Lower Maple Business Park, which includes the renovation of the historic Ansel Phelps-Solymon Merrick House and the former Female Seminary on adjoining parcels along Maple Street.

Jay Minkarah

Jay Minkarah says DevelopSpringfield is creating a new business park on lower Maple Street.

The site also includes six commercial garages and a two-story carriage house with a double-bay garage that is ideal for a contractor or other business that needs attached indoor parking. In addition, there is plenty of space for parking on the grounds.

The $1.8 million renovation of the property is almost complete, and is within walking distance of downtown Main Street. A number of offices and suites have been thoughtfully designed, while other space will be outfitted to suit tenants’ needs, and space in the Merrick House at 83 Maple St. will become DevelopSpringfield’s permanent home.

The majority of funding for the project has been provided by the organization, which was founded in 2008 and initially composed of volunteers in the wake of the State Street redevelopment program. Its focus is extremely challenging projects — restoring blighted but highly visible buildings with cultural and historic value that have deteriorated to the point where it is cost-prohibitive for the city or developers to rehabilitate them.

“We’re seeking to meet multiple goals, which include stimulating revitalization and economic development by saving buildings that show decay, decline, and disinvestment,” Minkarah said. “They give the wrong message when people drive by, but if they are restored, it has the opposite effect and helps to bring up property values, which contributes to the economy. We see ourselves as the city’s private, nonprofit development partner.”

He added that the Innovation Center was conceptualized at the end of 2014 when it became apparent that a new vision was needed for the city’s entertainment district.

“We’re hoping not only to create an exciting center for entrepreneurship and innovation, but a place where jobs are created,” Minkarah said, referring to VVM’s programs for startup businesses. “It’s always exciting when new businesses come to a city, but our core strategy needs to be growing new companies here to fulfill dreams and create jobs. We want to stimulate innovation, which needs to be one of the pillars of our economy.

“This project is also about revitalizing buildings that really need renovation and making a very visible investment in an area suffering from a high vacancy rate,” he continued, noting that the total cost, including acquisition and rehabilitation of the buildings, will total $3.5 million.

Other DevelopSpringfield projects include a historic renovation of the Gunn Block on the corner of State and Walnut streets. The organization is also working to bring a full-line grocery store to Mason Square, where it owns about 4.5 acres and is willing to develop the site.

Last August, it purchased a vacant church on the corner of Carew and Dwight streets in the North End and is in the process of acquiring six vacant lots from the city for parking.

Along the Central Street corridor, which was heavily impacted by the 2011 tornado, DevelopSpringfield acquired several vacant lots for redevelopment. New homes have been built on three of them by Viva Development for qualifying, working low-income families, and additional homes are planned.

“Sometimes we are the developer, sometimes we take a lead role in planning issues, and other times we provide support to the city and other nonprofits by serving as part of a project team or by writing grants to secure funding that can lead to revitalization,” Minkarah said.

Bright Future

A city’s reputation centers around its central business district, said Kennedy, noting that, while Springfield has had some problems in recent years, work by multiple stakeholders who share a vision is aimed at changing that perception.

“Our future is much brighter than it was five years ago, and there is a lot of activity going on downtown, coupled with increased lighting and a new police program,” he said. “All of the projects fit together, and we have the highest bond rating in our history, which really adds confidence to everything as we move forward.”

In short, the city is seeing considerable movement, he said in conclusion, noting that, through a concerted team effort, Springfield is enjoying real progress in its efforts to grow, thrive, and attract entrepreneurs, new residents, and visitors in the years to come.

Springfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1852
Population: 153,278
Area: 33.2 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate: Residential: $19.66; Commercial: $38.60
Median Household Income: $50,916 (2014)
Family Household Income: $64,576 (2014)
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Health; MassMutual Financial Group; Big Y; Sisters of Providence Health System; Smith & Wesson; Center for Human Development
* Latest information available

Employment Sections

A Transition in the Law

By Karina L. Schrengohst, Esq. and Jennifer Butler, Esq.

Discrimination based on transgender status or gender identity is a developing area of the law.

Recently, there has been considerable debate on the local, state, and national levels over access to bathrooms for transgender individuals. As the public debates this issue, legislators, administrative agencies, and courts are shaping the law that prohibits gender discrimination, including discrimination against transgender individuals.

In light of this, businesses that are open to the public should understand how to navigate through the legal landscape of an evolving area of discrimination law.

Karina L. Schrengohst

Karina L. Schrengohst

Jennifer Butler

Jennifer Butler

In 2012, with the passage of An Act Relative to Gender Identity (also known as the Transgender Equal Rights Bill), Massachusetts added gender identity as a protected class under the state’s anti-discrimination law, which defines gender identity as “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.” Massachusetts law prohibits discrimination against an individual based on that individual’s gender identity, transgender status, or perceived nonconformity with gender stereotypes in the context of employment, housing, education, and credit.

Massachusetts public-accommodation law, however, currently does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or transgender status. Massachusetts law prohibits discrimination in a place of public accommodation based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, and disability.

A place of public accommodation is essentially any place open to the general public. This includes, for instance, hotels, restaurants, bars, retail stores, theaters, sports stadiums, museums, libraries, parks, gyms, swimming pools, beaches, laundromats, gas stations, and public transportation. In other words, this means that, for example, it is unlawful for a restaurant to refuse service or a movie theater to refuse entry to an individual based on his or her gender.

Gender identity will likely soon be a protected class under Massachusetts public-accommodation law. In fact, a bill is now under review by the state Legislature that seeks to add the term ‘gender identity’ to the existing law to expressly prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals in the context of places of public accommodation. In addition, the proposal specifically aims to increase the scope of anti-discrimination law to explicitly grant transgender individuals access to public areas legally separated by gender, like bathrooms and locker rooms, consistent with their gender identity.

The proposed legislation has gained an increasing amount of support from the business community. Earlier this month, more than 40 businesses supporting the public-accommodations bill joined Attorney General Maura Healey in an open letter to lawmakers, urging them to take a favorable vote on the bill.

In the meantime, even in the absence of an explicit prohibition on discrimination based on gender identity, business owners should understand that denying access to transgender individuals could result in a lawsuit based on gender discrimination, which is explicitly prohibited by Massachusetts public-accommodation law.

In the employment context, federal law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.  Despite this, federal courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have recognized that discrimination based on gender identity or transgender status is a form of unlawful gender discrimination. A lawsuit could similarly be brought in the context of public-accommodation law.

Because change is on the horizon, and considering the current trend of interpreting gender-discrimination law, to reduce the risk of litigation, business owners would be wise to take steps to ensure that their policies and practices do not deny access and otherwise discriminate against individuals based on gender identity, transgender status, or perceived non-conformity with gender stereotypes.

Additionally, as most places of public accommodation are subject to employment-discrimination law, business owners should educate their employees that discrimination based on gender identity is unlawful and will not be tolerated in the workplace. Because this is a developing area of the law, business owners should consult with counsel with any questions concerning transgender-discrimination law.

Karina L. Schrengohst, Esq. and Jennifer Butler, Esq. specialize exclusively in management-side labor and employment law at Royal, P.C., a woman-owned, boutique, management-side labor and employment law firm, which is certified as a women’s business enterprise with the Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Office, the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Schrengohst can be reached at (413) 586-2288 or [email protected] Butler can be reached at (413) 586-2288 or [email protected]

Company Notebook Departments

United Financial Announces Q1 Earnings, Dividend

GLASTONBURY, Conn. — United Financial Bancorp Inc., the holding company for United Bank, announced results for the quarter ended March 31.
The company had net income of $11.9 million, or $0.24 per diluted share, for the quarter ended March 31, compared to net income for the linked quarter of $9.9 million, or $0.20 per diluted share. Operating net income (non-GAAP) for the first quarter of 2016 was $10.9 million, or $0.22 per diluted share, compared to $11.3 million, or $0.23 per diluted share for the linked quarter. Operating net income is adjusted for purchase accounting impacts and net gain on sale of securities.
Additionally, in the first quarter of 2016, operating income was also adjusted for Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston pre-payment penalties. The company reported net income of $13.0 million, or $0.26 per diluted share, for the quarter ended March 31, 2015.
“In the first quarter of 2016, linked quarter annualized growth included a 13% increase in demand deposits, 9% growth in total deposits, and a seven-basis-point expansion in the net interest margin. Non-interest expense to average assets declined to 2.03% on an operating basis, and asset quality remained excellent. Tangible book value increased by 5% compared to the linked quarter (annualized) as we announced our 40th consecutive dividend payment,” said William Crawford IV, CEO of the company and the bank. “Given the interest-rate environment, we believe execution on the aforementioned key variables gives us the best opportunity to continue building long-term shareholder value.
“While volatile interest rates reduced mortgage-banking income and headline company profitability in the first quarter of 2016, management is focused on growing revenue centered in net interest income and core fee income,” he went on. “I remain bullish on United Financial Bancorp Inc.’s outlook for 2016 earnings and tangible book value growth.”
The report’s financial highlights include return on average assets of 0.76%, return on average equity of 7.59%, a net interest margin increase to 3.09% from 3.02% in the linked quarter, and operating non-interest expense/average assets of 2.03% for the quarter (annualized) balance sheet. Total assets at March 31, 2016 increased by $90.7 million to $6.3 billion from $6.2 billion at Dec. 31, 2015.
At March 31, 2016, total loans were $4.6 billion, representing an increase of $34.9 million from the linked quarter. Despite the typical softness experienced in the first quarter in general, total commercial loans increased by $38.5 million, or 6% annualized. Residential mortgages declined during the first quarter of 2016 by $3.6 million, reflecting the company’s strategy to reduce on-balance sheet exposure to residential mortgage loans.

Balise Kia Dealership Opens in West Springfield

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The new Balise Kia in West Springfield, located on Riverdale Street next to Balise Mazda, opened on April 14. The completely renovated, 15,000-square-foot dealership replaces the Balise-owned Mighty Auto Parts warehouse, which has been relocated to a nearby facility. The new Kia building features a customer-friendly showroom and comfortable waiting area with free WiFi. The dealership also offers a covered service drive-up for customer convenience. Bill Peffer, president and COO of Balise Motor Sales, said he’s excited to welcome a rapidly growing brand to the Balise family. “The addition of Kia, one of the fastest-growing brands in the United States, aligns perfectly with the Balise philosophy of putting the customer first,” he said. “With numerous accolades in the areas of quality, safety, and sustainability, we’re thrilled to continue serving Kia customers throughout Western Massachusetts with a high-quality product.” Construction and renovation of the facility was completed by Associated Builders of South Hadley. This is the first Kia dealership for the Balise group and will be the only Kia Motors America franchise in the Springfield Metro area.

W.D. Cowls, Beacon Communities to Partner on Third Phase of Mill District

NORTH AMHERST — W.D. Cowls Inc. announced the start of phase three of its Mill District development, with a preliminarily agreement with Beacon Communities, a multi-family housing development, management, and investment company based in Boston.
Mollye Lockwood, W.D. Cowls’ vice president for Real Estate and Community Development, initiated a relationship with Beacon Communities for what she expects will be the next phase of the Mill District.
Beacon envisions a development that will feature mixed-income rental housing and first-floor commercial/retail space for lease, all to be located on the south side of Cowls Road, across the street from the Trolley Barn, between Atkins Farms and Cowls Building Supply. The project is still in its initial stages of site due diligence, community engagement, and concept brainstorming.
With the redevelopment of the Mill District, Cowls seeks to bring back community in this less-personally connected Internet age. “So many people today don’t belong to sporting clubs, fraternal organizations, or churches like they used to. Shopping malls and huge grocery emporiums on highways have taken away community interactions that were once naturally organic,” said Lockwood. “The Mill District seeks to bring back community by creating a sense of place through a mixed-use destination, where people live, dine, recreate, buy things better bought at a store rather than on the Internet, and enjoy services such as salons and health clubs.”
For several years, Cowls has been looking for the opportunity to create a mixed-income rental community in the Mill District and has heard from its neighbors and the Amherst community that this much-needed housing would be welcomed.
“I’ve worked with the impressive principals of Beacon Communities in the past,” Lockwood said, “and the town of Amherst has admired this Massachusetts company for stepping forward to protect the town’s affordable-housing inventory by purchasing and soundly managing Rolling Green Apartments.
“We have heard and responded to the wishes of our neighbors,” she added. “Our goal is to create a high-quality community that serves a diverse income range and offers housing options that will appeal to young professionals, young families, and those who are downsizing their homes.”
While Beacon will own and professionally manage all apartments, as it does with all of its properties, the first-floor commercial/retail space will be controlled by Cowls in order to provide and ensure a diverse community gathering space with a balanced mix of restaurants, shops, and services.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Jonathan LaFrance, an MBA student from Bay Path University, took first place at last night’s awards ceremony and banquet for the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, pitching Sergeant Shower, a biodegradable, two-sided, single-use, all-in-one shampoo and body-wash cloth mitt.

LaFrance convinced a panel of judges from six area banks that his pitch was the best at the event held at the Log Cabin. Jonathan Mendez, a Holyoke Community College student, took second place based on his business concept pitch for Mean Green Detergent Machine, a kiosk in stores allowing people to refill their laundry-detergent bottle. Steven Goldberg, a student at Amherst College, took third place with DineToday, a platform allowing restaurants to post discounts for off-peak reservation times.

The live event featured a student representative from each of the 14 participating local colleges: American International College, Amherst College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Greenfield Community College, Hampshire College, Holyoke Community College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, UMass Amherst, Western New England University, and Westfield State University. First-, second-, and third-place winners received $1000, $750, and $500 respectively. Each student participating received $100.

The judges represented Berkshire Bank, Country Bank, First Niagara Bank, PeoplesBank, United Bank, and Westfield Bank.

The judges also identified nine winning teams as Best Exhibitors. These were selected from a pool of 56 unique companies during a ‘trade show’ portion of the evening which featured the 2016 Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award winners. The three first-place winners (each receiving an additional award of $600) were: Connor Brown and Xavier Reed from Amherst College with Meetum, a platform for students to openly share events and activities with the college community; Misael Ramos from Springfield College with Royaume Expressions, garment decoration; and Joey Baurys and Nicolette LaPierre from Western New England University with Hemoflux, a prenatal genetic testing company.

The Entrepreneurship Initiative is one of several local initiatives supported by the philanthropy of Harold Grinspoon. For more information, visit www.hgf.org.

40 Under 40 The Class of 2016

Co-owner, Center Square Grill; Age 36

Michael Sakey

Michael Sakey


Michael Sakey likes to joke that he was an accidental restaurateur.

Indeed, he studied theater in college, planning for a much different career path. Even then, though, he was a restaurant veteran, having worked at pizza, sub, and coffee shops from age 14. In early 2000, he took a job with Claudio Guerra, the serial restaurateur behind the Northampton-based Spoleto Group. Sakey helped Guerra open six concept restaurants and also spearheaded Spoleto Catering, which specialized in full-service weddings.

“I went in thinking, ‘it’s just going to be for now, until I figure out what’s next,’” he said of his work with Guerra. But the restaurant life turned out to be the ‘next’ after all.

It’s not like he was abandoning his theatrical roots, however, as he sensed a connection between food and his other passion. “Restaurants can be theatrical. It’s kind of like throwing a party every night. If you can make them all happy, that’s something really unique, not like any other industry I can think of.”

Sakey — along with his business partner, fellow Spoleto Group veteran, and past 40 Under Forty honoree Bill Collins — has been making people happy at Center Square Grill since 2014, when the pair struck out on their own and launched the successful eatery near East Longmeadow’s famed rotary.

Breaking away from the Italian fare Guerra specializes in, the partners call their restaurant a “creative American grill,” pulling in influences from South America, classic French cooking, New Orleans, Jamaica, even Asia. The restaurant features a few different dining areas, from a formal dining room to a small room for private events to a lively bar area. Sakey takes particular pride in the restaurant’s impressive — and affordable — array of wine, beer, and cocktails.

He’s also proud of his civic work outside the restaurant, as he’s active in the East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce, participates in the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Gala, and sits on the board for UNIFY, an anti-bullying nonprofit. He has also donated to some three dozen area charities, spreading the success of a restaurant that has earned ‘Best Restaurant,’ ‘Best Bartenders,’ ‘Best Outdoor Dining,’ and ‘Best Waitstaff’ honors from MassLive, among myriad other awards.

But it’s a four-and-a-half-star Yelp rating that truly drives Sakey — a reminder that he and Collins are doing plenty right, but can always aim higher.

“Nothing’s ever perfect,” he said, “but we can be really good.”

— Joseph Bednar


Photography by Leah Martin Photography

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