GUEST WRITER JOSH LAYS OUT AN RX FOR DOWNTOWN, plus, TUNE IN TOMORROW FOR MORE DOWNTOWN STORIES THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW
EDITOR’S NOTE — We present the coveted first spot in today’s posting to JOSH, a 22-year-old who has posted some of the best reaction and shared some of the most practical ideas for advancing the interests of downtown Pittsfield. JOSH posted the following “story” yesterday a a reaction to THE PLANET’s continuing dissection of the challenges faced by the center of Shire City. From time to time, in the interests of a free flow of information, THE PLANET will apportion the first story to a guest writer. — DAN VALENTI
DOWNTOWN: DIAGNOSIS & PRESCRIPTION
In my previous two posts I’ve talked about the past and present opinions on the progress of Downtown Pittsfield. Here are some thoughts on my vision of the future of the downtown.
In the long run, there are two core objectives: To foster a network of business and enterprises which are viable to Pittsfield residents (and Berkshire County residents) on a year-round basis. The second is to take this approach and turn it into a reliable cycle of foot traffic other than the Third Thursdays of the summer months.
Here are some bits of advice I would give towards prospective business owners and future initiatives the city may take to achieve these goals:
1) For Business Owners- It’s not all in “A Name”, its all in “YOUR Name”. When one walks up and down the Downtown area, one fact that is easily distinguishable is that the businesses which have had the greatest long term success prominently feature the name of the business owner/proprietor. The England family built on this type of recognition for decades with their successful department store. Similarly, businesses like Steve Valenti’s, Carr Hardware, Paul Rich and Sons, and to a lesser extent Jae’s Spice have been successful because the customers have a greater sense of trust when an owner is willing to attach their name to their product. I would like to see more of their sentiment of entrepreneurship in the future.
2) For the City: Lighting. One caveat of walking down North Street late at night is not being able to see. Several years ago, the initiative was taken to place scarecrows all around the downtown area. One was conveniently placed right near a crosswalk. Every time my parents drove up and down the street, they would slam their brakes on, thinking it was a real person. Is the lack of bright lighting a safety concern? You betcha. Furthermore, it serves as a deterrent effect for potential shoppers and pedestrians later in the evening. I’m hopeful that the long-promised but slow to deliver Streetscape funding will eventually address this issue.
3) For the City: Parking. Early in Sara Hathaway’s administration, the City once again analyzed and rebuffed the idea of diagonal parking in the downtown. I cannot understand why. All one has to do is look to a small town like Lee which has diagonal parking, on A HEAVILY TRAVELED MAIN ARTERY leading to the Massachusetts Turnpike and Lee Outlet Shops, and see how much that this initiative has aided their downtown’s success. Furthermore, you have rarely, if ever, heard of catastrophic accidents occurring there, as we were consistently warned of in 2002 when we rejected this proposal. While it may be somewhat difficult to do, I think it’s a worthy issue to revisit.
4) For Business Owners: Be Flexible. I agree with a previous comment that no one in their right mind will go to the downtown to by $2000 widgets. Some of the merchandise that I’ve seen peddled by owners is outright ridiculous (not the prices per se, but the everyday usages). The will of the people will not change to adapt to your business model, but your business model will have to adapt to the will of the people to be successful. There are many things that I shop for in other parts of Pittsfield that I would like to see an entrepreneur try to sell in the downtown. One example would be a first-run music store. I would much rather purchase new CDs from a local merchant than shell out to the box chains. The problem is that no one has tried.
5) For the City: Be Flexible. We can only compete with towns like Lenox and Great Barrington for the Memorial Day-Labor Day dollars to a certain extent. The last time I checked, there are more than three months in a year (12 to be exact), and the scope of vision is going to have to expand to reflect the population of Pittsfield. We are not 43,000 yuppies who hob nob over the latest avant garde art from New York City and listen to classical music, we are 43,000 diverse but parochial people who have a variety of interests, needs, and discretionary incomes. We need to target all cross-sections of Pittsfield, not just one demographic that can’t support the types of ventures that seem to have been targeted.
This is not to say that I don’t support the progress that has been occurring. The Downtown’s infrastructure at face value has changed for the better over the past six years. But we are going to have to take a look in the mirror sooner or later to see if this is sustainable.
THE PLANET thanks JOSH and all who have contributed their ideas and criticisms. Be sure to tune in tomorrow, as THE PLANET presents more information regarding the downtown THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE!!
With that, we publish a couple of TOP FIVE lists regarding the downtown. First, it’s the TOP FIVE REASONS TO COME DOWNTOWN:
1. Anchor stores Valenti Clothing, Paul Rich Furniture, and Carr Hardware. At each of these stores, the customer is king and customer service rules.
2. Programming at Barrington Stage. None better.
3. Food at On a Roll Cafe in the Newberry Building. Dave and the Gang (including Roger) know how to serve the vittles.
4. A bit of the unusual to be found at The Emporium and Wide Sage. Eclectic selections at reasonable cost.
5. Chapter Bookstore. A bookstore grows in Pittsfield. What’s not to like?
AND HERE ARE THE TOP 5 REASONS TO AVOID DOWNTOWN PITTSFIELD:
1. You take your life in your hands, from criminals and crazy drivers. Safety, or lack thereof, is the number one concern for people.
2. Lack of diversity in shopping. Where are the stores? Where are the customers?
3. Lack of police presence, with not a foot-pounder anywhere in sight. This is an appalling oversight that has persisted for years. Message to Chief Wynn: Get your officers pounding a beat downtown and telling the riff-raff they have to move on.
4. The scary critters who form most of the downtown’s regular populace. Like the extras from a zombie movie.
5. The general sense of a lack of life, or, as we might put it: “Where’s the Vibe”?