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Special Coverage Tourism & Hospitality

Things Are Heating Up

It’s really happening. After a 2020 summer season in which most recreational and cultural venues were shuttered, and a 2021 that made halting progress toward normalcy, with a mix of in-person and virtual offerings, most area attractions are planning a 2022 summer season with few, if any, restrictions, worrying less about COVID this year than the gas prices tourists will be paying to visit them. For those willing to brave the pump, Western Mass. offers a whole lot to do, from live music to theater and dance; from sporting events to Fourth of July festivities; from agricultural fairs to multiple ways to enjoy the Connecticut River. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

 

Adventure East

11 Bridge St., Sunderland

www.adventureeast.com

Admission: Varies

Year-round: People enjoy being out in nature, but planning an outdoor adventure can be time-consuming and challenging. So Adventure East handles the logistics of outings involving hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, skiing, shoeshoeing, and more — as well as the equipment — so participants can take in the region’s natural beauty without the hassle of figuring out the details. Its activities take place throughout the region’s forests, mountains, and waterways, with guided tours geared at a wide range of skill and experience levels.

The Big E

The Big E

The Big E

1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield

www.easternstatesexposition.com

Admission: $10-$15; age 5 and under, free; 17-day pass, $20-$40

Sept. 16 to Oct. 2: As regional fairs go, it’s still the big one, and there’s something for everyone, whether it’s the copious fair food or the livestock shows, the Avenue of States houses or the parades, the local vendors and crafters or the live music, which in 2022 includes Nelly and the Dropkick Murphys. But the Big E isn’t the only agricultural fair on the block. The Westfield Fair kicks off the fair season on Aug. 19-21, followed by the Blandford Fair and the Three County Fair in Northampton on Sept. 2-5, the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield on Sept. 8-11, and the Belchertown Fair on Sept. 23-25, to name some of the larger gatherings.

 

Bridge of Flowers

Shelburne Falls

www.bridgeofflowersmass.org

Admission: Free

Through Oct. 31: The Bridge of Flowers connects the towns of Shelburne and Buckland. The seasonal footbridge, once a trolley bridge, has a garden of flowers covering it, which has long drawn visitors from both near and far. While admission is free, visitors may express their appreciation by offering donations in the kiosks located at both entrances. The Bridge of Flowers was recognized as a Franklin Favorite tourist attraction four years in a row (2018-2021) in a contest sponsored by the Greenfield Recorder.

 

 

Brimfield Antique Flea Market

Route 20, Brimfield

www.brimfieldantiquefleamarket.com

Admission: Free

July 12-17, Sept. 6-11: After expanding steadily through the decades, the Brimfield Antique Flea Market now encompasses six miles of Route 20 and has become a nationally known destination for people who value antiques, collectibles, and flea-market finds. Some 6,000 dealers and close to 1 million total visitors show up at the three annual, week-long events; the first was in May.

 

Concerts at the Drake

44 North Pleasant St., Amherst

www.thedrakeamherst.org

Admission: Varies

Year-round: For decades, the Amherst community has clamored for a space for a live performance and music venue. The Amherst Business Improvement District and the Downtown Amherst Foundation listened, and the result is the Drake, a recently opened performing-arts venue in the heart of downtown Amherst, with a planned lineup of both legendary and emerging musical artists from Western Mass. and across the globe, as well as workshops and open-mic nights. Check out the website for a full lineup.

 

FreshGrass Festival

1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams

www.freshgrass.com

Admission: three-day pass, $54-$174; ages 6 and under, free

Sept. 23-25: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the FreshGrass festival is among the highlights, showcasing dozens of bluegrass artists and bands on four stages over three days. This year, the lineup includes Gary Clark Jr., Old Crow Medicine Show, Tanya Tucker, Trampled by Turtles, the Del McCoury Band, Taj Mahal, and many more.

 

Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival

300 North Main St., Florence

www.glasgowlands.org

Admission: $22; ages 6-12, $5; age 5 and under, free

July 16: Celebrating its 27th anniversary, the largest Scottish festival in Massachusetts, held at Look Park, features Highland dancers, pipe bands, a pipe and drum competition, animals, spinners, weavers, harpists, Celtic music, athletic contests, activities for children, and the authentically dressed Historic Highlanders recreating everyday life in that society from the 14th through 18th centuries. Featured performers this year include Enter the Haggis, Albannach, Sarah the Fiddler, and Charlie Zahm.

 

Green River Festival

Green River Festival

Green River Festival

One College Dr., Greenfield

www.greenriverfestival.com

Admission: Weekend, $170; Friday, $55; Saturday, $75; Sunday, $75

June 24-26: For one weekend every summer, Greenfield Community College hosts a high-energy celebration of music; local food, beer, and wine; handmade crafts; and games and activities for families and children — all topped off with hot-air-balloon launches and evening ‘balloon glows.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 30 artists and bands — from Father John Misty to Waxahatchee to Asleep at the Wheel — slated to perform this year.

 

Independence Day Weekend at Old Sturbridge Village

1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge

www.osv.org

Admission: $14-$28

July 2-4: Old Sturbridge Village will celebrate Independence Day weekend with a citizens’ parade, fife and drum music, cannon demonstrations, and more. Attendees can join in a game of old-fashioned baseball, watch a toy hot-air balloon flight, listen to a stirring reading of the Declaration of Independence, and hear excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s 1852 address “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July.” On July 4, a citizen naturalization ceremony will take place on the Village Common.

 

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

358 George Carter Road, Becket

www.jacobspillow.org

Admission: Prices vary

June 18 to Aug. 28: Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance. This season begins with the 90th anniversary gala on June 18, which precedes dozens of events, including “Eastern Woodland Dances” on June 22, Ted Shawn’s “Dance of the Ages” on June 23, Ronald K. Brown’s “Evidence” from June 29 to July 3, Caleb Teicher’s “Sw!ng Out” on July 6-10, Ballet Nepantla’s “Valentina” on July 13, and much, much more; check out the website for a full listing.

 

Lady Bea Cruise Boat

1 Alvord St., South Hadley, MA

www.brunelles.com

Admission: $18-$25; kids 3 and under, free

All summer: Interstate 91 is not the only direct thoroughfare from South Hadley to Northampton. The Lady Bea, a 53-foot, 49-passenger, climate-controlled boat operated by Brunelle’s Marina, will take boarders up and back on daily cruises along the Valley’s other major highway: the Connecticut River. If you don’t feel like sharing the 75-minute narrated voyage with others, rent the boat out for a private excursion. Amenties include a PA system, video monitors, a full bar, and seating indoors and on the sun deck.

 

Monson Summerfest

Main Street, Monson

www.monsonsummerfestinc.com

Admission: Free

July 4: In 1979, a group of parishioners from the town’s Methodist church wanted to start an Independence Day celebration focused on family and community. The first Summerfest featured food, games, and fun activities. With the addition of a parade, booths, bands, rides, and activities, the event — now in its 23rd year — has evolved into an attraction drawing between 10,000 and 13,000 people every July 4.

 

Shakespeare & Company

70 Kemble St., Lenox

www.shakespeare.org

Admission: Varies

This year marks Shakespeare & Company’s 45th season of performances, actor training, and education, taking place at two indoor venues and two outdoor spaces, including the 500-seat Spruce Theater, an amphitheater built just last summer. The two Shakespeare productions planned for 2022 include Much Ado About Nothing (July 2 to Aug. 14) and Measure for Measure (Aug. 19 to Sept. 18), while visitors can also take in plenty of contemporary plays, as well as comedy and other events.

 

Six Flags New England

Six Flags New England

Six Flags New England

1623 Main St., Agawam

www.sixflags.com/newengland

Admission: $34.99 and up; season passes, $59.99 and up

All summer: Unlike most seasons, Six Flags has not announced a new ride for 2022, but is touting an improved visitor experience, adding single-rider lines on some of its most popular rides, including Batman the Dark Knight, Harley Quinn Spinsanity, Supergirl Sky Flyer, and more; as well as upgrading its Flash Pass system to a mobile app, offering mobile food ordering, and unveiling new dining options. The main park and the Hurricane Harbor water park are both open now.

 

Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival

Stearns Square, Springfield

www.springfieldjazzfest.com

Admission: Free

Aug. 12-13: This year, Springfield’s biggest music festival moves to the Stearns Square neighborhood, and Worthington and Bridge streets will be closed to vehicles to create a pedestrian area. The Charles Neville Main Stage will be located near Stearns Square, and the Urban Roots Stage will be located near Tower Square Park. The music lineup will include Bomba de Aqui, Albino Mbie, Curtis Haywood, Dayme Arocena, and the Haneef Nelson Quintet, with more announcements to come.

 

Star Spangled Springfield

Downtown Springfield

www.spiritofspringfield.org

Admission: Free

July 4: What’s a better end to an Independence Day filled with food, family, and outdoor fun than taking in a spectacle of the skies? Springfield’s annual event will feature family-friendly entertainment, a flyover by the 104th Fighter Wing, and a dazzling fireworks display from the Memorial Bridge. But that’s hardly the only display on tap. Among the Western Mass. communities that have announced fireworks events are Holyoke (June 24); Chicopee and Northampton (June 25); Greenfield (July 1); South Hadley (July 2); Agawam (July 2-4); East Longmeadow (July 3); Amherst, North Adams, and Pittsfield (July 4); and Otis (July 9).

 

Summer Stage at Ski Butternut

380 State Road, Great Barrington

www.etix.com/ticket/v/23194/ski-butternut

Admission: $24 to $28

July 16, Aug. 27. Sept. 17: For the first time this summer, Ski Butternut will present a family-friendly concert series. The cover bands span a range of rock styles and time periods and include Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones: A Tribute to Prince (July 16), The Machine: Dark Side of the Moon and Greatest Hits of Pink Floyd (Aug. 27), and The Breakers: A Tribute to Tom Petty (Sept. 17). A variety of food, beer, and wine will be available for purchase.

 

Tanglewood

Tanglewood

Tanglewood

297 West St., Lenox

www.bso.org

Admission: Varies

June 17 to Sept. 4: This summer, for the first time since 2019, Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, will offer a full season of concerts and events. With Ozawa Hall and the Linde Center for Music and Learning reopening to the public alongside the Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood will present a wide range of programs, including eight world and American premieres and 28 works by living composers, as well as 21 artists making their Tanglewood or BSO debuts. See the website for a full listing.

 

Valley Blue Sox

MacKenzie Stadium, 500 Beech St., Holyoke

www.valleybluesox.com

Admission: $5-$7; flex packs, $59-$99

Through July 30: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, two-time champions of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play the home half of their 44-game schedule close to home at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke. Frequent promotional events like postgame fireworks and giveaways help make every game a fun, affordable event for the whole family.

 

Westfield Starfires

Bullens Field, Westfield, MA

www.westfieldstarfires.com

Admission: $10; flex packs, $99

Through Aug. 6: Still can’t get enough baseball? The newest baseball club to land in Western Mass., the Starfires, a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, play a slightly longer schedule (56 games) than the Blue Sox. Now in its fourth season, the team plays at Bullens Field in a city with a rich baseball history, and peppers its games with plenty of local flavor and fan experiences.

 

The Zoo in Forest Park

The Zoo in Forest Park

The Zoo in Forest Park

293 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA

www.forestparkzoo.org

Admission: $5-$10; children under 1, free

Through Oct. 10: The Zoo in Forest Park, located inside Springfield’s Forest Park, is home to a wide variety of species found throughout the world and North America. Meanwhile, the zoo maintains a focus on conservation, wildlife education, and rehabilitations. The Zoo is open seven days a week, weather permitting, and, unlike 2020 and 2021, guests no longer need a timed ticket to visit. u

Opinion

Editorial

As spring prepares to turn to summer, there are many positive signs for the region’s economy as it moves ever closer to the normal that we have all been seeking since we first heard that word ‘COVID’ back in early March of 2020.

Indeed, the tourism sector seems poised for a strong summer as those who have been shut in, to one degree or another, for the past 27 months, are poised to make up for some lost time. Couple that with soaring gas prices, soaring prices to fly, and soaring prices to stay in a hotel, and many will be opting for day trips and staying closer to home, which also bodes well for our local tourism and hospitality economy, which is geared toward those types of visits.

But amid the many promising signs, there are many stark reminders that, if what we’ve been in for the past two years could be considered the woods, we are certainly not out of them — not by a long shot.

And we need look no further than Northampton and the now shuttered Sylvester’s restaurant for ample proof of that sobering fact.

The owners of that establishment were nearing 40 years of service to the Pioneer Valley when they decided, in their words, to “simplify their lives.’ By that, they meant that they would focus on their other restaurant, Roberto’s, also in Northampton, and close Sylvester’s, which focused exclusively on breakfast and lunch and was a favorite of many in this region, a landmark in every sense of the word.

“Our hearts are heavy as we make a difficult announcement,” they wrote on FaceBook. “After 39 years of serving the Pioneer Valley, we have decided to close our doors at Sylvester’s. Anyone in the business will tell you that navigating a restaurant through the pandemic of the last two years has been a monumental task.

“We have always been successful because of our staff, managers, and family,” they went on. “Many of our staff had come back to us after being laid off twice in the past year. They’ve endured a mask mandate in a steamy kitchen, endless challenges, labor shortages, and the struggles and worries brought on by COVID-19.”

Slicing through all this and reading between the lines, it’s clear that, while the pandemic has loosened its grip on the region and its business community, this fight is far from over. And it’s likely that Sylvester’s will not be the last casualty.

Indeed, businesses of all kinds, but especially those in hospitality, retail, and other service businesses, are still struggling to turn back the clock to 2019. In fact, most have realized there is simply no returning to the way things were.

Wages have skyrocketed and myriad other costs have risen in ways that could not have been imagined two years ago. Some businesses can pass along these higher costs, but others have a much harder time doing so. Meanwhile, it has become painfully clear that the workforce crisis, like inflation itself, is not temporary — or anywhere near as temporary as we all would like.

Finding help, even at the going, much-higher rates seen today, is a daunting task, and for some, it has proven too daunting.

As we mourn the loss of Sylvester’s and the traditions it spawned, we are reminded that, while the skies are certainly brighter in this region and the pandemic has eased its grip, COVID and its many side-effects are still a considerable force to be reckoned with.

Daily News

GREAT BARRINGTON — Josh Kelleher of JJK Productions in East Longmeadow has brought his two passions, music and the Berkshires, together to create a family- friendly concert series at Ski Butternut. A life-long skier, Kelleher now brings his sons with him to Great Barrington for winter sports and to explore local attractions. “I love music, skiing, and the Berkshires, so Ski Butternut is a perfect fit for me to bring some really fun and different bands to the summer scene here,” he said. 

Kelleher knows the business well. He has been booking music for the Westfield River Brewing Company for eight years and is the co-founder of The High Hopes Music and Arts Festival, and provides production support for a variety of venues and festival. Referring to Summer Stage he said, “Summer stage will be a rockin’ time for all ages — I’m inviting folks to enjoy live music with the backdrop of the Berkshires. Sing and dance along and lounge on the lawn.” A variety of beer and wine will be available for purchase and Ski Butternut will be offering food from the Pit Stop. 

The cover bands span a range of rock styles and time periods including Dave Matthews, Prince, Pink Floyd, and Tom Petty tributes.  When asked what band he was most looking forward to Kelleher responded: “I’m extremely excited for all of them but my personal fav will be The Machine performing Dark Side of the Moon.” 

Summer Stage at Ski Butternut 2022 season includes four concerts. Family friendly events, attendees are invited to bring their own chairs and blankets. No outside food or beverages allowed on sight. The concerts will happen rain or shine.  

 

The series includes:  

 

May 27: The Dave Matthews Tribute Band 

July 16: Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones; A Tribute to Prince 

August 27: The Machine: Dark Side of the Moon and Greatest Hits 

Sept. 17: The Breakers: A Tribute to Tom Petty 

 

Summer Stage takes place at Ski Butternut in Great Barrington. 

Tickets available at https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/23194/ski-butternut 

For more information, call (413) 330-9367, or email to [email protected] 

Special Coverage Travel and Tourism

Fun in the Sun

Last year may not have been a total washout when it came to outdoor recreation and events, but many well-loved attractions and destinations had to dramatically scale back operations — if they opened at all. This year, with May 29 marking the end of most gathering restrictions in Massachusetts, there’s once again plenty to look forward to. You can read about some of them on the following pages: two local collegiate baseball teams back in action, the return of a beloved music and craft festival in Greenfield, and — as a shoutout to the governor — a baker’s dozen other options. There’s much, much more to look forward to, so get online and check out what else is happening near you, during a summer that promises to be a long-awaited breath of fresh air.

Berkshires Arts Festival

380 State Road, Great Barrington

www.berkshiresartsfestival.com

Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10

Aug. 13-15: Ski Butternut plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition now in its 20th year. When Gov. Charlie Baker announced the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions as of Aug. 1 (since revised to May 29), event organizers moved the dates of this year’s festival to mid-August. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of more than 175 artists and designers from across the country, in both outdoor and air-conditioned indoor exhibition spaces. “With its relaxed atmosphere, great food, exceptional art, and fine crafts, puppet shows, and live music,” the Berkshires Visitors Bureau notes, “it’s a great weekend for the entire family.”

 

The Big E

1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield

www.easternstatesexposition.com

Admission: $8 and up; free for children under 5; 17-day pass $20-$40

Sept. 17 to Oct. 3: Yes, it’s happening. And as regional fairs go, it’s still the big one, with something for everyone, whether it’s the copious fair food or the livestock shows, the Avenue of States houses and parades, the local vendors and crafters, or the live music. Musical highlights this year include Machine Gun Kelly in concert on Sept. 17, and Brad Paisley performing in the arena on Sept. 24, marking the 20th anniversary of the first time Paisley played the Big E.

 

Crab Apple Whitewater Rafting

2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont

www.crabapplewhitewater.com

Admission: Varies by activity

All summer: Wanna get wet? Crab Apple is a third-generation, multi-state family business that operates locally on the Deerfield River in the northern Berkshire Mountains of Western Mass. Its rafting excursions range from mild to wild, full- or half-day runs, in rafts and inflatable kayaks. In short, Crab Apple offers something for everyone, from beginners to more experienced rafters. Starting May 29, the company will accept reservations for all group sizes. Meanwhile, waivers will be sent in advance to guests for e-signing to ensure a touch-free check-in process, hand-washing stations have been added at all building entrances, and transportation to and from the river will be offered in vans and buses.

 

Drive-in Concerts at the Wick

The Wick, Legion Road, Southwick

www.westfieldlivemusic.com/southwick

Admission: $25 to $45

June 11, July 9, Aug. TBA: The national touring and recording artists Beatlemania Again will headline a summer series of live drive-in concerts on to benefit the Southwick Civic Fund, which creates and produces events that provide a sense of community spirit, celebration, and civic pride. The concert will be held at the Southwick MotoX Track (the Wick) on Legion Road in Southwick on June 11 at 7:30 p.m., and will follow all current CDC and local health department guidelines. Each vehicle will have a space next to it for the occupants to set up lawn chairs or blankets to enjoy the show. A modest PA and lighting will provide a real concert feel. Upcoming concerts in the series include Foreigners Journey (July 9) and an August show to be announced.

 

FreshGrass Festival

1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams

www.freshgrass.com

Admission: $50-$150 for three-day pass; free for children under 6

Sept. 24-26: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the FreshGrass festival is among the highlights, showcasing dozens of bluegrass artists and bands over three days. This year, the lineup includes Dispatch, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Béla Fleck My Bluegrass Heart (featuring Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz, and Bryan Sutton), Watchouse, Sarah Jarosz, and many more. FreshGrass features bluegrass traditionalists and innovators on four stages and platforms throughout the museum’s 16-acre campus. Festival programming also includes FreshScores, a silent film with original live music; FreshGrass commissions and world premieres; instrument and industry workshops; pop-up performances and retail; and local Berkshire food and spirits vendors.

 

Fresh Paint Springfield

Downtown Springfield

www.freshpaintspringfield.com

Admission: Free

June 5-13: Fresh Paint Springfield, the mural festival that began in 2019 in downtown Springfield and transformed large exterior walls into art, will return with 10 new murals downtown and in Mason Square. This year’s festival will involve members of the community in the design and painting of all 10 murals, which will result in opportunities for more than 1,000 Springfield residents to actively participate in the beautification of the city. The murals will use a technique that employs giant paint-by-numbers canvases on special polytab mural fabric for members of the community to paint at COVID-safe outdoor paint parties during the festival. New this year, the Community Mural Apprentice program will pair 10 local artists with established muralists to learn how to independently engage with the community in designing and painting large, professional murals.

 

Historic Deerfield

84B Old Main St., Deerfield, MA

www.historic-deerfield.org

Admission: $5-$18; free for children under 6

All summer: This outdoor museum interprets the history and culture of early New England and the Connecticut River Valley. Visitors can tour 12 carefully preserved antique houses dating from 1730 to 1850 and explore world-class collections of regional furniture, silver, textiles, and other decorative arts. Summer activities include educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, and exhibitions of period items and art. Due to COVID-19, access to the historic house museums is still restricted, but at least one historic house will open for touring each day, with wider access possible later on. Visitors should inquire on the day of their visit which house is open for touring that day.

 

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

358 George Carter Road, Becket

www.jacobspillow.org

Admission: Prices vary

June 30 to Aug. 29: Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance, and this year’s festival returns with live, in-person events, but much more as well. “We will share the restorative and uplifting power of dance in person at our campus in the Berkshire Hills, on the road in our communities, as well as through live and on-demand events online to reach audiences across the world,” its directors say. “Our offerings will include commissions, premieres, Pillow debuts, talks, and workshops that take into account COVID-compliant protocols to ensure the health and safety of our community. The festival will put artists back to work after the devastation of the pandemic and remind us all of the power of dance to positively impact communities.”

 

Mattoon Street Arts Festival

Mattoon Street, Springfield

www.mattoonfestival.org

Admission: Free

Sept. 11-12: Now in its 48th year, the Mattoon Street Arts Festival is the longest-running arts festival in the Pioneer Valley, featuring about 100 exhibitors, including artists that work in ceramics, fibers, glass, jewelry, painting and printmaking, photography, wood, metal, and mixed media. Food vendors and strolling musicians help to make the event a true late-summer destination. Admission is free, as is parking at the TD Bank lot. Located just three blocks from I-91, this family-friendly event is ideal for holiday shopping, seeing new craft ideas, or just walking on a beautiful Victorian street.

Pedal ‘n’ Party

Brunelle’s Marina, 1 Alvord St., South Hadley

www.pedalnparty.com

Admission: $30 for 60 minutes, $15 for 30 minutes

All summer: Want to have some fun out on the water? Rent an individual hydrobike, which can be use to explore the Connecticut River and the streams that feed into it. This eco-friendly, pedal-powered vessel moves at a comfortable 4-6 mph with easy effort. From its stability to its high visibility on the water, the hydrobike is engineered for a safe, reliable ride. Its pontoons were scientifically developed by a professional canoe designer for optimum buoyancy, speed, and maneuverability, ensuring a smooth ride even in very choppy water. Stable enough to dive from, the hydrobike can also handle rough water conditions, including five-foot swells. Rent it for a beautiful day on the water, a workout, or a fun group activity.

 

Pioneer Valley Ballet

Park Hill Orchard, 82 Park Hill Road, Easthampton

www.pioneervalleyballet.org

Admission: $20, $10 for children and seniors

June 4-5: It’s been a year and a half since Pioneer Valley Ballet (PVB) last performed for a live audience, but that will change in June as the company welcomes spring with an outdoor, site-specific performance of one of Shakespeare’s most popular and treasured works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After having to cancel all of its 2020 performances, PVB is once again taking to the stage — only this time the ‘stage’ is Easthampton’s Park Hill Orchard, where for two afternoons small groups will wind through the fields, discovering scenes from the Midsummer story at sites throughout the picturesque orchard. A new audience will enter every 30 minutes. The first performance of each day will be a non-roaming, single-location performance for anyone with mobility concerns.

 

Six Flags New England

1623 Main St., Agawam

www.sixflags.com/newengland

Admission: $29.99 and up; season passes $49.99

All summer: Continuing an annual tradition of adding a new major attraction each spring, Six Flags New England recently unveiled Supergirl Skyflyer, a spinning, high-speed thrill ride. The main park is now open, and the Hurricane Harbor waterpark opens Memorial Day weekend. “We are beyond thrilled that we can reopen our theme park with a full complement of our more than 100 rides, attractions, and unique experiences,” park President Pete Carmichael said recently. “Now more than ever, families need an escape that is safe, accessible and fun.”

 

The Zoo in Forest Park

293 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA

www.forestparkzoo.org

Admission: $5-$10; free for children under 1

Through Oct. 14: The Zoo in Forest Park, located inside Springfield’s Forest Park, is home to a wide variety of species found throughout the world and North America. Meanwhile, the zoo maintains a focus on conservation, wildlife education, and rehabilitations. The Zoo is open seven days a week, weather permitting, but all guests, including members, currently need a timed ticket to visit. Recently, state Sen. Eric Lesser and other local lawmakers announced $125,000 in pandemic recovery funding for the zoo to continue its mission of education, conservation, and rehabilitation.

 

 

Coronavirus Special Coverage

Destination Unknown

John Doleva

John Doleva says the Basketball Hall of Fame still has a big, important year on tap, even if the schedule has shifted quite a bit.

As he talked with BusinessWest about his industry and his family’s hotel group, Kishore Parmar kept glancing back and forth between the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Hadley and the parking lot outside.

He did so with a look that blended something approaching disbelief — still, after roughly three months of the same view — with resignation.

“This lobby is essentially empty, and this is not how it is,” he explained. “If this were a normal day in June, you’d see families, you’d see business people in and out, there would be staff going up and down the hallways. We would be sold out for tonight, or very close to it.”

Instead, there would be maybe six or eight people staying in this 71-room hotel just off Route 9 that night. The lobby was empty. Just a few vehicles dotted the parking lot, all of which Parmar could identify as belonging to staff.

This view is a metaphor of sorts for what hotels have been experiencing since mid-March, something none of those in it have ever seen before. Business for the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group — which also includes a La Quinta by Wyndham in Springfield, Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites by Hilton in Hadley, Holiday Inn Express in Ludlow, and Hadley Farms Meeting House in Hadley — is off roughly 80% from what it was a year ago. And the numbers would be even worse if some first responders didn’t stay in these hotels in the early days of the pandemic.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing is that Parmar doesn’t know if, when, or for how long things will get appreciably better.

But while the view for all hoteliers in the region is similarly troubling, there are some signs of life in the broad tourism and hospitality sector. Indeed, many area restaurants are now open for outdoor seating, and a good number of them are creating intriguing spaces as they welcome back customers that have been relegated to takeout for more than three months.

Signs at the Hall of Fame

Signs at the Hall of Fame will use players’ wingspans to send a message about standing six feet apart — or, in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s case, more than seven feet.

Meanwhile, some tourist attractions are moving closer to opening their doors. The state’s casinos are eyeing a late June opening — although MGM Springfield has not committed to a specific date — while the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is in the final stages of a $23 million renovation project, is targeting July 1 as its reopening date.

President and CEO John Doleva isn’t sure what kind of turnout that opening will boast, although he told BusinessWest the Hall will be aggressive in marketing what was supposed to be a high point in a year of many high points.

“In January, I sat down with the senior staff and said, ‘first of all, this is going to be the greatest class ever — Kobe (Bryant), Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett. That was before Kobe passed away, which was pretty unbelievable,” he recalled. “On top of that, we had a 100% new museum, top to bottom, that was going to open up on May 1” — not to mention a commemorative coin from the U.S. Mint, to be unveiled at the Final Four in early April.

The coin was eventually released, but the Final Four was cancelled, the 2020 induction was moved into 2021, and, who knows what the July 1 grand opening will bring? But Doleva is optimistic.

“The good news is, all these things are going to happen; it’s not like we lost them. They’re just not on the time frame we thought they would be,” he said. “But we do feel that people want to do stuff — but how will they decide?”

That equation has surely changed in the year of COVID-19.

“People always ask, ‘what am I going to see, what does it cost, how far away from my house is it, and what kind of experience is it?’” he noted. “But kind of rising to the top is, ‘what kind of procedures and protocols does an organization have in place to ensure my family’s health and safety?’

“Safety is paramount at any tourism destination at this point,” Doleva added. “You’ve got to communicate not the traditional marketing of ‘we’re fun and we’re affordable; your family’s going to have a great time and talk about it forever.’ It’s also, ‘you can come here and feel safe — and here’s everything that we’re doing.’”

And that presents an opportunity in a region rich in attractions that are often taken for granted by locals. There are indications that, due to real concerns about traveling in anything but a car, area destinations might get a boost from those looking to take a ‘staycation,’ rather than typical vacation, and that includes visiting sites where they feel safe.

“This lobby is essentially empty, and this is not how it is. If this were a normal day in June, you’d see families, you’d see business people in and out, there would be staff going up and down the hallways. We would be sold out for tonight, or very close to it.”

But a host of challenges remain for this sector, and questions remain about everything from how hotels will serve guests breakfast to whether there will be a Big E — which benefits a number of businesses in this sector — and what that fair might look like. But as tourism lurches back to something resembling life, there’s plenty of hope in the air, too.

Animal Attraction

It was opening day at the Zoo in Forest Park & Education Center in Springfield — a full nine weeks later than usual — but Sarah Tsitso liked what she saw.

“People are definitely responding,” said Tsitso, the zoo’s executive director, as guests took advantage of a new timed reservation system that, at least for now, lets only 10 people in every 10 minutes, to promote social distancing. “It’s great seeing families and children so happy being out seeing the animals, and the animals are happy to see their friends come back. We close the first week of November. That’s a long time to be closed to the public.”

The key word is ‘public.’

“The zoo is open 365 days a year for the animals. They live here, and they’re fed and get vet care whether it’s winter or summer. We rely on the visitor season to generate revenue for the months we’re closed.”

Those nine lost weeks cost the center some $200,000 in revenues, losing not just gate receipts but educational programs, a robust schedule of spring field trips, and three major events typically held annually between March and July.

“That’s a pretty huge loss,” she said. “We’re still not sure what’s happening with summer camps, which would start around June 25. We’re not sure what that’s going to look like.”

Whatever shape the summer takes, it will be better than the waiting game to reopen, during which the zoo managed to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan to keep staff working and developed the protocols now in place, from a mask requirement and sanitizer stations to additional barrier fences and a one-way path around the grounds.

“It was certainly challenging, but manageable,” Tsitso said. “The biggest change was probably the timed ticketing system. But we were quickly able to identify a system that works for us and get it up and functioning. We were just waiting for the green light.”

The light turned decidedly red for Peter Pan Bus Lines back in March, CEO Peter Picknelly told BusinessWest.

“We ran for a few weeks once the pandemic hit, but within two and a half weeks, sales declined over 90%. So we shut down for about eight weeks,” he said. “Shutting down was one of the hardest things we have ever done.”

When the buses did start rolling again earlier this month, making limited runs to major destination cities, Picknelly was pleasantly surprised. “Activity has been pretty good,” he said after the first week, adding that the second week was looking even busier. “There’s a pent-up demand to get out of Dodge, and that’s what we help people do.”

One issue is that destination cities like Boston and New York are still reopening in their own way, and once the big cities fully open, he expects more of a rush. For now, the company is getting its “sea legs back,” he said, and making sure everyone on the bus feels safe.

Kishore Parmar

Kishore Parmar says the most unsettling thing about the pandemic, from the hotel industry’s perspective, is not knowing when business might get better.

To that end, Peter Pan has improved its contactless boarding procedures while introducing PermaSafe, a CDC-approved product that purifies passenger cabin air while making interior surfaces anti-microbial and self-sanitizing. The company also uses electrostatic handheld sprayers to sanitize and disinfect the buses every night. In addition, passengers are required to wear a face mask at all times, and employees have been issued personal protective equipment, including face masks and hand sanitizer.

“Here’s my theory — nobody wants to get sick; nobody wants to get someone else sick,” Picknelly said. “But nobody wants to be cooped up any longer, either. A lot of what we do is leisure travel, but people also have to travel for medical appointments, for school, for business. There’s not only a pent-up demand to get out of Dodge, there’s also a need.”

But, they also need to feel safe, he said. “As time goes on, people will be more and more comfortable getting out. I’m confident this is going to end way sooner than people think. And I think any smart business person knows, if you want customers to come in — and come back — you’ve got to make them feel safe and comfortable.”

At the hall of fame, protocols in place for the opening include regular disinfection of all frequently touched surfaces, complimentary stylus pens to use on interactive touchscreens, an electrostatic disinfectant air-mist system, and … well, the list is frankly too long to detail all of it here.

“We’ll have the clean team out in the museum unlike ever before,” Doleva said. “People will see it in action.”

And it’s important they see it, he added.

“People are clamoring to get out. They’re looking for the safe places that are paying attention — but I definitely think there is pent-up demand.”

Some will want to be among the early visitors, he added, while others will take a wait-and-see approach. “It will be a short summer, but we are going to showcase the museum. This is a grand-opening summer, and everyone has the opportunity to come here.”

Room for Improvement

Parmar told BusinessWest that, for his group’s hotels, and most all facilities not in the shadow of ski resorts, winter is a slow, difficult time.

And what he fears is that, unless some things change, 2020 might take on the look of a 12-month-long winter in terms of occupancy rates and overall vibrancy.

“We might go from winter … right into another winter,” he said, adding that July, at this moment, doesn’t look much better than June, and the rest of summer and fall amount to a giant question mark.

The company has essentially seen its busiest season wiped off the calendar, losing college commencements, visits to area colleges and universities, business meetings, weddings, bridal and baby showers, and much more.

This certainly isn’t what the company was expecting in 2020, a year that began with hopes and expansion plans. Indeed, this is the first full year for the Homewood Suites facility, opened just over a year ago and off to a solid start, and there were plans to create a new hotel on the site of the old Howard Johnson’s on the Mohawk Trail in Greenfield and completely renovate the Roadway Inn in Hadley, which is currently closed.

That’s were. “We had a plate full for this coming year, and we were very excited about it, but then we had it all taken away,” Parmar said, adding that those projects have been put on ice, and the company is essentially trying to make the most out of what will be a trying year.

The company applied for and received a PPP loan and used it to bring its employees back to work after many were furloughed earlier in the spring. The problem now is that the money is running out, and business certainly hasn’t come back — as evidenced by the parking lot and the front lobby. Parmar said there is little if any leisure business at this point, and also little if any business travel, as companies continue to rely on Zoom meetings.

“We’re bootstrapped right now — we’re counting every penny, we’re counting every dollar,” he said. “We’re doing our best to reduce every cost there is.”

While hotels might continue to struggle, however, many in the tourism sector feel they will see more ‘staycation’ action than usual — particularly if out-of-state travelers are put off by Massachusetts’ suggested (but not required) 14-day quarantine when entering.

“If someone from Enfield wants to come to the Hall of Fame, they’re not going to take a 15-day trip to see a one-day experience. So that’s got to be clarified,” Doleva said. “I do think it is an impediment to tourism. People see ‘suggested,’ they think ‘required.’ So we’re hoping for some clarification because it affects us, and it affects hotels, restaurants, and other attractions.

Doleva said he never foresaw what 2020 would bring when he began a two-year term as board chair for the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau back in November. But he’s been impressed with the planning the GSCVB has done to hit the ground running once tourism ramps up again this summer.

“We have a very aggressive plan to advertise the region like never before, the attractions especially,” he told BusinessWest. “We’ve never brought people together the way we are now. That’s a blessing in disguise — this is bringing the different factions of the tourism business tighter than ever.”

As chair, he also hopes elected leaders develop a greater appreciation of the impact of the tourism and hospitality industry and the numbers of people it employs, as well as the taxes it generates — and make investments in supporting tourism statewide over the long term.

“I think, if we look for the silver lining, this has caused us all to step back and focus on how we’re all interdependent, and when one improves, we all improve,” he added. “We know we have something special out here. It’s a nice place to visit, we’ve got a lot of things to do, and the industry is very focused on safety. Now we need to move forward together.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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