Article

EXCLUSIVE BREAKING NEWS: THREE STORES TO CLOSE IN DOWNTOWN PITTSFIELD

BY DAN VALENTI

In a story we will continue to check, THE PLANET has learned of the imminent closings of three downtown businesses that have been used to proclaim the presence of a downtown “renaissance.”

The Market: Fresh food, but man does not live by produce alone. It takes customers and coin.

Most likely before the end of this month, although that is not certain, the Ferrin Gallery, Museum Facsimiles outlet store, and The Market will be closing their doors. The upscale, urban-type shopping boutiques and the Greenwich Village-style eatery have simply not been able to generate enough foot traffic that translates into sales. Another store on that block, in the 400 “odd” side of North Street, reported no sales yesterday — for the entire day. The block includes the West Side Clock Shop and a Chinese take-out place.

As THE PLANET gets more information, we shall pass on what we learn. Our source is a person who would have reason to know this information. We have not yet independently confirmed the story with the business owners. We do, however, know the source to be reliable and not given to misinformation.

If this information proves true, this would be a serious blow to efforts of downtown revitalization, which, despite obvious progress in the last couple of years, still lacks the “it” factor. What is “it”? That is a question worth much debate.Spice opened with heavy tax breaks. The original restaurant failed. Jae's Spice is making a better go of it.

According to city consultant John Barrett, Pittsfield’s downtown “needs a strong housing component.”  Barrett said that housing is a factor in every lively downtown. Indeed, THE PLANET can agree, citing any number of cities — Newburyport, Mass., and Burlington, Vt., just to name a couple that spring quickly to mind.

Housing One of the Missing Elements

Pittsfield already has low-income housing and elderly housing as part of the downtown.  That’s not what Barrett means, for the residents of these kinds of units tend to have little discretionary income. Where are the cute bed-and-breakfasts in the downtown? Where are the middle- to high-income condos, apartments, and hotels? Where are the residents who are looking for that type of lodging?

Perhaps new director Kate Magwire on the BTF can get the underused Colonial hopping.

The appearance of a “renaissance” can be created if you throw enough public dollars into the equation, as we have seen with the Beacon movie complex, Spice, the Colonial, and other public-supported “private” ventures. But when businesses resort to good old capitalism, they live or die based on sales. The free marketplace votes with a pocketbook and wallet, and as of now, they are voting “no” to the “renaissance.”

This is not to say that such a revitalization can’t happen, but clearly, a different strategy is needed. A part of the answer is the Arts, though it is not the answer itself.The Arts can sustain and grow a renaissance, but they can't jump start one without a strong existing economy. The Arts can be a vital supplement to such a population, but the Arts in Pittsfield will never DRIVE a recreation-and-resort economy. As always, it comes down to good-paying jobs. If you have them, you can create a thriving local downtown economy. If you don’t, you’ll be picking at seeds and stems.

22 Responses to “EXCLUSIVE BREAKING NEWS: THREE STORES TO CLOSE IN DOWNTOWN PITTSFIELD”

  1. Old song
    December 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    Seeds and stems…again.

  2. Dee
    December 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    What keeps me out of Pittsfield and specifically off North Street?

    Could it be the fact that you can’t drive from one end of it to the other without being challenged by the less savoy “gang” members who have taken over Pittsfield? Or, as one person recently commented, the new pan-handler teenagers who feel that any gathering of people is a reason to try to cash in?

    Until the powers-that-be address the biggest problem Pittsfield faces, drugs and gang related activities, no one is going to come and spend their disposible income. I know I won’t.

    • danvalenti
      December 1, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

      We agree, Dee. It’s frightening to walk around in the downtown during business hours. The “folks” you see there look like extras from a zombie movie. You state the majority view when it comes to “coming downtown and spending disposable income.”

  3. Joe Pinhead
    December 1, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    Tell me your kidding? you mean to tell me now that the Teachers have all that free time on their hands due to work to rule their not out shopping on North street? so then there out helping little old ladies cross streets and such right?
    I thought that they were the pillars of the community? I forgot Oprah was on and its a big give away day. Humm I figured the people who care for the community were out searching for noble missions with all that new found free time.
    my bad

    • danvalenti
      December 1, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

      The teachers DO have all of this time on their hands because they’re stiffing the children. They are pillars, they make an average of $60K, and they could be supporting these kinds of businesses. For a pinhead, you’re a genius.

  4. No Reply
    December 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    Man, I’s surprised and not surprised. I’m surprised that this rash of closings downtown (court sq grille, etc) continues. I’n not surprised because these three shops are more suited to a place that first has the economy with money to spend. I applaud the owners of these stores for taking a chance with THEIR OWN money They didn’t come looking for a handouts of tax $$.

  5. Marcus A.
    December 1, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    I am a part-time resident of Berkshire County, with a primary residence in New York. It was a pleasure to see The Market open up, and w have been a customer of the Ferrin Gallery. I have been concerned all summer, though, at what an earlier reply pointed out: a lack of foot traffic on N Street and too many people who at one look are obviously undesireables. This is not to judge them but only to day that no self-respecting person who was concerned about their safety would feel comfortable. My wife will not come for shopping in downtown for this very reason.

    • h
      December 8, 2010 at 2:55 am #

      “and too many people who at one look are obviously undesireables. This is not to judge them but only to day that no self-respecting person who was concerned about their safety would feel comfortable.”

      i believe that your statement, though prefaced with “this is not to judge them,” is a judgement.

      i’m a woman in my 20′s, living and working downtown. i walk up and down north street from bmc hospital down to the marketplace cafe, sometimes even crossing the barrier to south street. and while i admit that there are interesting folks about, i’ve never felt afraid. there are poor folks asking for money and kids loitering about, and many people riding around on scooters but nothing to cause real alarm.

      and while there are a number “undesirables”, selling drugs, what i find so interesting about pittsfield, looking at it from a transplant’s point of view, is that no one ever mentions the drug users, just those selling them. just about everyone i’ve spoken with, from my parents’ generation to their privileged children and from artist hipsters to wound up business like folks, does some form of illegal substance. but all of this is hushed up under the white, middle class blanket and we turn our attention to those that don’t fit in – wearing urban, baggy clothing instead of our neatly pressed gap chinos and popped lacoste polo shirts. we blame them for all the danger and poverty in pittsfield and tell them to get real jobs or get locked up.

      and the twist on top of it all is, we’re too scared to step out of our luxury vehicles and actually walk around the city, and interact with the people we climb on top of our soap boxes to criticize.

      • danvalenti
        December 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

        DELISH
        Nice post with excellent points.

  6. Josh
    December 1, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

    While this is disappointing news, I feel that its a little unfair to put the total onus of the failure on the lack of foot traffic. The product that these merchants are trying to sell is not something which our city’s population has embraced nor will embrace. This is one of the few issues that I’d wholeheartedly agree with Jim Gleason on. The Downtown seems to be attempting to embrace a Northampton-like artsy culture, but you can only have so many chachke/art stores for a certain population. This is a problem Rebel Sound Records had: if they had targeted a more mainstream market of music, I think they had some potential to be successful. They chose to do what they wanted, and there simply wasn’t a market for it. I hoped that they would be successful, but this is simply not the place for that type of venue.

    If North Street merchants presented a more mainstream product which average residents use, then I think a merchant might have a greater shot at long term success. This has what has kept people like Steve Valenti and Jim’s House of Shoes in business for decades. They are some of the few providers in their specific niche that people develop a sense of loyalty.

    As someone who supports the arts but is not part of that culture, North Street is not a destination for me to buy paintings or avant garde pastries. I wish them all of success, but their product does not appeal to my tastes.

    Population growth is a major key to the long term success of the downtown, if not THE major key. But, you have to cater to the needs of the population if you want to be viable.

    • Asking for Sanity
      December 2, 2010 at 9:17 am #

      Yes, so true. This isn’t Northhamptom, as much as the city officials want to pretend it is. It CAN be. It could be, but it isn’t. That’s what’s holding downtown back. Failure to recognize what is and pretending to see what isn’t.

  7. pjmh
    December 2, 2010 at 8:44 am #

    Bummer. I’ve attended a few events at Ferrin and am a frequent customer at The Market (and Root’s, which recently closed). I also try to hit up other spots on North street that I like as often as possible (mostly food). I don’t live in Pittsfield, but I have an office here and it’s important to me that I spend my money locally as often as possible, for many reasons.

    Look, I get what is trying to happen with the “Downtown” efforts and I applaud all involved to make this happen. However, I’m just not feeling it, for many reasons already listed above (although I was surprised to see that nobody mentioned being run over by countless scooters carts) and the simple fact that there is no vibe whatsoever. None.

    Dan, fantastic job with the blog, thanks.

  8. Asking for Sanity
    December 2, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    Yes, well, I think Josh, Jim G., and Valenti has fingered the elements involved. Lack of foot traffic, lack of that “type” of artsy NHampton-like market, and an ignorance of the market (the fair market, not the one supported by public tax dollars, as Dan points out) in Pittsfield. Nice to see the Eagle scooped.

  9. rick
    December 2, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    free parking is the way to bring people to north street. the redevelopment in concept is excellent, now its time to see it survive.no more hand outs, i think j-ro (jim roberto), is its own worst enemy. if u build it they will come is a term used in a movie,the movie was a fantasy. north street is a mess,i bypass it as much as possible. between the j walkers,the hobos,and drivers to find a parking place,it ends up being dodge city.there is another term i like and that is…….. there is a time to stop the bleeding!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. danvalenti
    December 2, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    RICK
    You point out the elements on North Street, from carzy people to crazy drivers. These are facts. All the elements that make it an unwelcoming and unsafe place. We need leaders to first recognize there is bleeding before it can be stopped.

  11. Jeff Ferrin
    December 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    I have to say that after reading all these I have to agree. I went into the Ferrin Gallery. (No relation I am told) and I actually felt very unwelcomed by the man behind the counter. I was asking some basic questions and trying to learn more about them. The man was rude and made my wife and I feel very uncomfortable. Almost a snooty Hoity Toity attitude. Maybe they recognized me as a non JR supporter. Who knows. I also agree that I to do not feel the vibe on North Street. Other than Carr Hardware and Jim’s Shoes once in a while I usually do not have a need to go into the other shops. But thats just me. I was one of the employees who 3 yrs ago put up no scooters,bikes or skateboards on sidewalk signs on North Street. Like so many other passed ordinances they are not enforced. The people who hang out in the park I have had beg for money.
    I think that the majority of people want to go there and shop. I loved it as a kid. I will say as hard as it is for me, that I agree with Barrett (BOY THAT HURT) on the housing deal. We need to have downtown housing that allows for disposable income and the need. But to get their we need viable jobs that can support the expense of a condo or upscale apartment within the North Street corridor. We need less restaurants and more shops that fit the bill of what todays market asks for. We have smart intelegent business people in Berkshire County. I find it hard to believe that we have not seen a report on what would work in this area. Art and culture is great. I like it and am trying to get my kids to like it. However it in and of itself unless we are near Broadway or Northampton does not cut it here. Sure the Colnial “which I do go to” and the Beacon which I have gone to have provided some jobs. But are not a mainstay for econimical growth. I grew up near Berkshire Theatre Festival and Tanglewood, My grandmother was aprivate nurse to Norman Rockwell. I have been to Naumkeg and Chesterwood. I have been to the Mount in Lenox. But this is not South County. This is Pittsfield and we are known for Manufacturing and a central job market for corporate type industry. Not the arts; Have we thought about asking the local residence what they would like to see here based on their needs? Have we brought together the entrepreneurs and the community and looked as a whole as to what is missing? Not just the jobs, thats a given. But what is missing that the world needs? What is missing that in todays economy. What is and could be done to create jobs and fill the needs of what is missing. Our world and economy are ever changing and we must change with it. I read some responses here from non residence of Pittsfield and as it is made clear to me we need to look beyond Pittsfield to see what the needs are for Pittsfield so we can meet them. We as residence alone can not support Pittsfield’s growth. We can barley support the tax base with those left to pay for the nonsense we have. We rely on those who do travel here. So what are they looking for? Not just the welthy but the families and singles of the blue collar world. What are our surrounding communities looking for? What is the new market? With the millions we have spent over the years on Peda and BEDC who is now defunct with a new name of 1 Berkshire and Deanna Ruffers Community Development Programs why have we not seen anything develop? What is the marketing analysis that they have come up with? Nothing. New ways to spend money and matching grants. I know that much. I have yet to read a report that has been written by anyone, based on a study by any of these groups that suck up millions in tax dollars with nothing to really show for the money spent.

    Well these are just my opinion’s and points of view. I thank people like Jim Gleason who pays a lot of attention to where Pittsfield is and is going. I also want to thank those who write in to give an opinion on Pittsfield that do not live here. I think it helps us ( me anyways) better understand what we as residence do not see in the same face as those who are not. An outsiders point of view on crime is just one area.

    Keep slamming em Dan, Give Em Hell

    • danvalenti
      December 2, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

      JEFF
      Thanks for the contribution to the discussion.

  12. dean
    December 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm #

    Josh hit the nail on the head but there are other issues here as well. Pittsfield unlike Northampton has more than 1/2 main shopping areas (downtown and i believe king st? in noho) Tyler street is growing, elm street, allendale, whats left of the berkshire mall and the outlets down in Lee. tax incentives have drawn in many “hobby entreprenures” who want to open stores out of passion with little to no sustainable business plan. the city isnt in a position to say sorry you cant come because we dont think you’ll make it because they will take anything even short term. the chamber of commerce needs to take a larger role in the effort of making sure we are bringing sustainable businesses to pittsfield.
    dealing with housing we of course need to continue to develop the area around downtown with housing and better transportation/parking, but who is going to move in? with many cheap properties around town its hard to believe that people would give up a lawn, yard, private driveway for a place downtown, if they want city life they will go to boston or new york.
    that is unless we can begin to reverse the downward sloping population trend by bringing in more high quality jobs. for this, everyone is at fault. to the city for its regulations and taxes, to the chamber and BEDC for its failure to market the city, to the schools, and so on.
    lastly, dont blame law enforcement on vagrants etc. we should have more officers on foot that is true, but blame our crap educational system.. not local, but statewide and national, they havent changed a dam thing in 100 years, get with the times, teach people something.
    oh and 2 stories… 2 “unnamed sources” come on dan really?

  13. Mary Talmi
    December 3, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    How can anyone seriously compare Pittsfield to Northampton? Northampton has how many colleges with how many students with disposable incomes? Come on!
    Pittsfield is a family centric community. Family events work here and are successful. Businesses that cater to families survive.

  14. Jeanne
    December 9, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    I don’t know if this is a dead thread, but I’ll throw my two cents in anyhow. As a recent transplant from a lively Midwestern college town, I listened to the hype about the revitalization of downtown Pittsfield with a measure of hope. So far it has proved fairly disappointing, though I do spend a fair amount of time (and money) in North Street businesses. I’ll definitely agree with comments about the lack of vibe. I think that, in some respects, has to do with how broad the street itself is. Maybe it’s just my impression, but at this point that can come off more cavernous or canyon-like than grand and impressive. Not that there’s much that can be done about that, but that doesn’t help nascent efforts to create a vibe. There are stretches where it feels like things are happening but nothing continuous.

    Also, I’ve been a little taken aback by the comments about dangerous or disreputable characters hanging out on North Street. Perhaps I am not looking closely enough, or something, but I have yet to feel unsafe, even walking by myself at night. For the most part I have seen a variety of people minding their own business, and have minded mine.

    One of the primary things that prompted me to comment, to be frank, was my disappointment but also my lack of surprise on hearing that The Market is closing. As a young professional with a 9-5 job, their 9-4 hours during the week never made much sense to me. My lunch hours are often busy with errands. I would have loved to be able to stop by the Market on my way home from work to pick up either prepared food or specialty ingredients. I would have been more than willing to pay a premium for good cheese and etc within walking distance, outside of work hours. While I have stopped in of a Saturday afternoon, I would have gone much more often had their hours accomodated a typical work schedule. Maybe that’s an example of how some of the businesses on North St have misjudged their clientele.

    • danvalenti
      December 9, 2010 at 11:42 am #

      JEANNE
      Thank you for this intelligent commentary. We agree that the avenue is too long and wide. Something CAN be done about that, however. That something was a plan for a pedestrian mall from the Pop Corner to Columbus Avenue. Brick it over, make it people friendly, and bypass traffic on both sides via First and Center streets. It could still work, with the right political will and vision.