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GUEST WRITER JOSH LAYS OUT AN RX FOR DOWNTOWN, plus, TUNE IN TOMORROW FOR MORE DOWNTOWN STORIES THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW

THE PLANET, 12/5/10: Pointing to The Divine Edgar.

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

BY JOSH

K*B TOYS: Defunct. Rumor has Target moving from the Berkshire Mall to this location.

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.

The former Eagle building: Flatiron finds a new use, but why isn't it filled?

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.

Parking was a lot easier back in the day: fewer cars, more spaces.

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.

Flexibility: The Crowne Plaza chain has invested in snappy upgrades in Pittsfield's only skyscraper.

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.

CAn City Hall learn to be flexible, or will it continue to be stubborn regarding a downtown solution?

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.

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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”?

15 Responses to “GUEST WRITER JOSH LAYS OUT AN RX FOR DOWNTOWN, plus, TUNE IN TOMORROW FOR MORE DOWNTOWN STORIES THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW”

  1. Cruiser3
    December 5, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    I agree on the idea of diagonal parking only if the speed of vehicles can be reduced on North St. The majority of the traffic travels at excessive speed along the street. It would be nice if the police department traffic detail would do some radar speed enforcement.

    The speed of traffic on Lee’s Main Street is within reason mostly due to the north and south approaches to Main St, which are curved section of the roads approaching Main Street reducing vehicle speed.

  2. Bill Sturgeon
    December 5, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    Josh:

    Excellent article! While I agree with the overall article – I think that some of the new businesses that are making in it should have been mentioned.

    Bill Sturgeon – WBRK

    • danvalenti
      December 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

      We are all for mentioning ANY business that is making it on their own wits. Thanks for the post. Look forward to our next guesting gig on your show! I will be on with John Krol, “Good Morning, Pittsfield,” on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.

    • Josh
      December 5, 2010 at 9:29 pm #

      Bill,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      I appreciate and patronize a good number of the local merchants on North Street when I am in town. Some of the investment that’s been occurring over the past 4-6 years has been most welcome. In particular, I appreciate the investment George Whaling continues to make in his properties (which are truly an asset to the aesthetics of the area now).

      As far as newer businesses, one of my favorite places to frequent is Liberty Pizza (formerly the Sugar Bowl), which gives you great food for your dollar, and from what my Dad says, has a fabulous Veal Parmesan. For lighter breakfast foods and pastries, you can never go wrong with the bagels from Bagels, Too.

      Chapters Bookstore has been a most welcome addition to the North St. corridor, and has filled the void admirably of the former Either Or Books (where my uncle worked for many years). I especially love that they feature local authors and artwork, in particular the prints of Pittsfield by Suzanne Goudreau.

      The New Berry Place has also been a welcome throwback, offering practical foods and gifts for reasonable prices. I’ve stopped in a few times and have been very pleased by the response to this venture. I especially appreciate that the owners recognize the history of the storefront as well.

      There are many more to list, but these are some of the few which I enjoy.

  3. Josh is a Hoax
    December 5, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    You expect us to believe you didn’t pen that Josh article, Dan?

    (1) A 22 year old using “you betcha”?
    (2) A 22 year old buying CD’s?
    (3) References to the Hathaway administration, when “Josh” would have been playing Babe Ruth?
    (4) References to ENGLAND BROTHERS, when “Josh” would have been in diapers.

    C’mon, just admit it.

    Let’s see if this gets past the editor…

    • danvalenti
      December 5, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

      HOAX
      Woah!
      (1) I Hate to disillusion you, but Josh is real.
      (2) ” ” ”
      (3) ” ” ”
      (4) ” ” ”
      He is a law student. Beyond that, I will say no more. Admit it! He has rattled you!

      • Josh
        December 5, 2010 at 8:40 pm #

        If I had qualified myself by saying that I played at Blueskies and Rainbows at Crawford Square in the Downtown when I was a kid, maybe that would help the skeptics date me a little better…I certainly do miss their slide and train.

        I was in Kindergarten during the Lewis Lent scandal which put our city in chaos. I didn’t recognize at the time the danger children my age in the city faced. I was more interested in Legos.

        And yes, I was playing Babe Ruth during the Hathaway administration, but when I wasn’t striking out on meatballs down the middle and botching fly balls at Deming and Reid, I was tuned into the wonderful antics of Peter Arlos, “Rowdy” Rob Tuttle, and all the gang at 70 Allen Street. That show was better than any reality show garbage on television. Any council meeting was bound to end in fisticuffs. What was more interesting to me is that this was smack dab in the middle of the debacle of the future of Wahconah Park. It’s strange how we are still engaged in the same debate 7 years later…

        And my England Brothers reference? I appreciate the history of the people that have come before me in Pittsfield. The mark they made is an indelible one on our once glorious past. Though their physical contributions have long been torn down, their legacies must live on.

    • Zach
      December 5, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

      As the brother of Josh, I would sure hope he is a real person or I would have to question what my mom spiked the formula with when I was an infant.

      That being said, I agree with a lot of his comments. One thing in particular I think was a very good point is the fact that the downtown business target demographic is so demassified, that it is not best serving our community. While I understand the importance of drawing in tourism and emphasizing our cultural strengths, it’s just not a good long term model.

      - Zach

      P.S
      Dan, I was co-host of the show “Berkshire Breakdown” on WTBR when you came by last march. I check the site daily, it’s great.

  4. Sam
    December 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    Josh and I regularly attended city council meetings during the Hathaway era when there was a threat of consolidating our high schools.

  5. Ron Kitterman
    December 6, 2010 at 4:07 am #

    A law student you betcha Josh. I thought he was a student in one of your English classes Dan. A good piece of fiction for sure. You go Josh !! Thanks for the race you bring to us each year in memory of your Grampa Josh Billing. We love your family.

  6. Ron Kitterman
    December 6, 2010 at 6:20 am #

    Josh is on the right track. Bring in a candy store and find a place for the Berkshire Carousel to locate in the downtown. Get rid of the graffiti and bring back the cops on walking beats of horses. Sort of like Rudy’s broken window theory. You go Josh!! Good luck during your winter break at law school.

  7. Asking for Sanity
    December 6, 2010 at 8:16 am #

    Josh is a real young man, not an Artificial Intelligence kid. I know the family and can vouch for this. His insights lend an addded perspective to the discussion for its almost always that this age group, the 20 something, is left out. Josh and Zach: keep posting. We need your POVs.

  8. Scott Laugenour
    December 6, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    I’ve just been appointed by the Lenox Select Committee to be on the steering committee that will guide implementation of our town’s own economic development plan, so I’ve appreciated following the stories and discussions that have been posted here with regards to downtown Pittsfield.

    I took to heart Josh’s first recommendation to business owners, that they put their name on their business. Might I suggest that anyone who is given a first-page post on this blog use his/her full name? (And to Josh’s brother, Zach, I miss listening to Berkshire Breakdown).

    I’ll be listening to Dan on Good Morning Pittsfield tomorrow. It will be my turn to be a GMP guest on the day after tomorrow (Wed. at 8:00).

    Keep up the good interesting work …

    • danvalenti
      December 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

      SCOTT
      Congratulations on your appointment. Please don’t let them ruin Lenox any more than they have with unchecked and buckshot development. I’ll try to warm up the crowd tomorrow on GMP for your show Wednesday. Keep up the good work.

  9. Dean
    December 7, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Would rather read PlanetJosh