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NORTH STREET: THE AVENUE OF SIGHS with a ‘RENAISSANCE’ IN BIG TROUBLE

Glad to see the Eagle  finish in second place on the news we broke at this website yesterday, about The Market closing its doors. Their last day will be Dec. 11. The upscale grocery store in the 400 block of North Street gave it a go with their own money, but it didn’t work. Left out of the Eagle story were the two other downtown closings we reported yesterday: Museum Facsimiles and Ferrin Gallery.

Looking to Downtown: Grey skies and chill. Where's the 'vibe'?

Our good friend Tony Dobrowolski of the Eagle did a good job getting the follow-up story on The Market. Unfortunately, his editors buried his second-day piece on B7, hoping no one would notice. Can you imagine, though, the “Stop the Presses!” coverage in the local daily if the La-Dee-Da Foi Gras & Brie Bar opened on North Street. They would break out in a chorus of “Happy Days are Here Again” and drinks would be on the house — specially if the owner was politically connected.

Even THE PLANET’s coverage was one closing too little. Our spies also reported that — in addition to the three businesses mentioned — the nearby tatoo parlor on that side of North Street closed this week. Hmmm. We hadn’t heard of an ink shortage, and judging by people’s fleshy torsos — which incredibly, notably among the idiot young, can still be viewed even in the coldest weather — the demand for tatoos hasn’t receded. As the noted philosopher Jimmy Durante once observed, “Ink-ka-dinka-do.”

Downtown from the air: My, how everything looks so "together" from up there. Down on the ground, though ...

THE PLANET contacted Museum Facsimiles the and the gallery for comment, but those calls were not returned. Museum had voice mail turned off, leaving the phone to pile up about 127 rings before THE PLANET realized no one was going to pick up. We left a message seeking comment at Ferrin. If these businesses get back to us, we shall tell you what they say. If the phone continues not to ring, I’ll know it was them.

We Don’t ‘Drink the Downtown Kool-Aid’

THE PLANET takes no joy in breaking news of this sort. We don’t “drink the Downtown Kool-Aid,” however, and thus can’t announce a renaissance that is not there. Our ethics and a commitment to truth prohibit that. Has there been progress? Yes. Is it going in the right direction? Probably. Is a Renaissance blooming? Not by a stretch.

A downtown apologist, vested by her city-paid salary, brought out an old chestnut when she accused THE PLANET’s interest in the story as strictly mercenary. We pointed out that we take no advertising on this site so as to be and remain UNBOUGHT and UNBOSSED. “Well, then,” she said, “you’re using this to get readers.” To this, we could only shake our heads at her colossal misunderstanding, a lack of cluelessness so profound that it belongs in a museum.

Her argument reminded us of covering Bishop Tim McDonnell when he had the sad duty of celebrating the closing Mass at St. Stanislaus in Adams. After the liturgy was over, the bishop met with the people, in the vestibule. One heckler said something along the lines of, “Hope you had fun shutting us down, bishop.” To which McDonnell replied, “No, this is not fun for anyone. I would much rather be saying Mass here to open a parish than close one down.”

Same here, bishop. We would much rather be reporting on an authentic rebirth. When it happens, we will. In fact, we will soon be breaking news of a NEW BUSINESS that will be opening off the upper end of North Street, on Burbank. Stay tuned.

Fact is, the rebirth is in doubt. It may happen or may not. A seed has been planted, but it could well be still born. It could also be a healthy infant with great potential for growth. We shall see.

* * *

Shades of Grey: Dottie's in the Greystone Block. Will this lovely little place be next?

On a related note, our story yesterday brought with it about some intelligence emanating from the Greystone Block. A source told us that Dottie’s, the neat little coffee bar at the corner of North Street and Maplewood Avenue, is “under a lot of duress.” One of the reasons cited was the city clamping down on the lovely little outdoor dining area. It brought a little “April in Paris” to downtown, but that apparently wasn’t good enough for someone at city hall. THE PLANET suggests that the city encourage and not hassle such entrepreneurship.

Mission Tapas, located in the same block at Dottie’s and owned by the same man who owns the soon to close Market, reports good business, especially at night. Mission Tapas has become the current gathering place in the evening for professionals and the more well-heeled among us. We didn’t hear anything on the new barber shop in that block. Anyone who knows, contact us.

The vintage clothing store in the Greylock Block almost lost its lease this summer. We hear that when the building’s owners thought they had found another tenant, they were ready to give the long-standing Pittsfield business the heave-ho. The deal fell through, though, and the clothing store got a reprieve.

One downtown professional, who maintains a financial services office there, pointed out the geography of North Street as a problem. THE PLANET has entertained similar thoughts. First, the street is simply too long and too wide to result in an “it” feeling (what one responder to this site called the “vibe”).

North Street: The Great Wide Way, Where 'Yo Ass' is Always on the Line.

Crossing the street is a dangerous game. Multiple widenings over the years have created an east-west chasm. A pedestrian who aims to cross feels tethered at both ends: east by beasts and west by not-the-best. We refer here to the critters, derelicts, deadbeats, alkies, druggies, and welfare moms who toothlessly populate the area. The pedestrian’s rope extends over a great abyss of traffic that will likely run you over as stop (we thank Nietzsche for the use of the analogy).

Another geographical point mentioned by Financial Man is the sheer length of the grand avenue from Park Square to Wahconah Street. It’s a haul even in the best weather. In raid, ice, snow, or wind, it’s torture. This configuration robs the downtown of “commercial continuity.” This phrase refers to a cozy assemblage of shops, stores, eateries, arts, etc.that all successful downtown have going. Want to know what this looks like? Visit downtown Newburyport, Mass., or Portland, Maine. Easier, visit the Outlet Village in Lee or the Holyoke Mall.

Back in the Day, no cars, but — with few street bums and no crazy drivers — 'Yo' Ass' was safe.

Geography may seem immutable, but it’s not. It can be changed. The best plan floated for downtown Pittsfield in the past 40 years was to shut down North Street to vehicles, brick over the road, create pedestrian malls, and use First and Center streets as bypasses. Like locating the mall downtown (which the people voted for twice only to be twice stuffed by corrupt politics), the pedestrian mall never happened.

These two developments — losing the mall and failing to implement to pedestrian-friendly area — were two elements of a perfect storm that hit in the 70s and 80s. Other factors in that storm were the pullout of GE, the acceptance by city officials of in-need half-way-house populations from the the rest of the state, and the failure of officials to take action other than to create person power centers and factionalism, which operate only too robustly to this day.

Like the critic who got on THE PLANET for “creating bad downtown news,” instead of uncovering it and reporting it, systemic corruption can go to Heck.

Yes, we are being too kind. What we mean is, go **** yourself. You fill in the blank. To the Little Guy, to the Bedraggled Taxpayer, and to all those honest and good folks who live decent lives, WE ARE WITH YOU AND SHALL STAY THAT WAY.

18 Responses to “NORTH STREET: THE AVENUE OF SIGHS with a ‘RENAISSANCE’ IN BIG TROUBLE”

  1. Museum Facsimiles Outlet Store
    December 2, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    This is almost laughable except that you are hurting good people by not reporting responsibly. Tony Dobrowolski of the Berkshire Eagle reached us yesterday and asked if we were closing before he printed anything, that is responsible journalism. He called both the outlet store and the manufacturing plant. We have no intention of closing. Because we are a manufacturer to fine stores worldwide, we understand what the recession has done to retailers and Pittsfield is no exception. Actually, our outlet store sales are up from last year, stores in very affluent communities are not saying that. There are a lot of good people working very hard and putting everything on the line to make Pittsfield become the city it once was, too bad the people who say they want it most, don’t support it.

    • danvalenti
      December 2, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

      LAURIE
      Thanks you. I would have taken your call, had you returned it. You must understand. This column is in cyberspace, which moves in nanoseconds. Tony was writing for the print medium, which moves with a calendar. I do not have time to wait before posting, but if you call me tomorrow or wish to e-mail an official statement, I shall be only too glad to include.

      • white queen
        December 6, 2010 at 7:25 am #

        “You must understand. This column is in cyberspace, which moves in nanoseconds….I do not have time to wait before posting”

        THAT’s your excuse for irresponsible journalism? Technologly?

        Valenti’s a joke.

  2. joann pena
    December 2, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    i loved this story. dan this is so very true about tattoo shop and all the stores closing. my self i rather go to the market and spend 3 or 4 hundred dollars on food then a tattoo. keep up the good work dan.

    • danvalenti
      December 2, 2010 at 6:27 pm #

      JO-JO
      Thanks for your thoughts on this. You are like many others, who need true shopping (not tattoo parlors and derelicts) to lure you downtown.

  3. winterchymes
    December 2, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    I disagree with the statement that North St. is too wide. Main St. in Northampton is wider than North St., has crazier traffic patterns than North St. and it still gets tons of foot traffic. What makes it different from Pittsfield is that there is also a college (Smith) within walking distance and a mix of businesses (offices, retail and enterainment) that cater to a wide range of tastes and wallets. The side streets also support businesses and residential spaces.

    It appears that Pittsfield is trying to cater to one segment of the population (2nd homeowners/$$$ people) and is focusing only on one area: North St. What reason does anyone else have to come into the downtown area? I work and live in the downtown area and don’t feel that there is anything for me there. If someone is staying at the Crowne Plaza, where do they go? How many places are there to really shop? For the people who live here year round, what would draw them to the downtown area? Community events (Third Thursdays, Ethnic Fair) only happen in warm weather. Bring back First Night festivities for New Year’s Eve and get people downtown. Is the city’s cultural director (I refuse to use the term czar because quite honestly I don’t think she embodies what the term actually means) unable to gather together the people and ideas to help
    bring people downtown year round; to cater to a broader range of the population

    However, before people can actually engage in these events, they have to have decent paying jobs.

  4. Joe Pinhead
    December 2, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Congrats on scooping the Eagle
    Well the Downtown derby goes on; why is it the Mayor and Councilors have to put all the eggs in one basket? Isn’t North Street just the latest lottery ticket? Remember we had to have the money for EV worldwide hurry, hurry because once they get the money and settle in were changing the name of the city to Utopia. How did that work out? Not one of the 1000 promised jobs anywhere to be seen. Armitage pleads GUILTY to defrauding the Government for the past 20 years and our winning lottery ticket? Poof
    Then if we Could just get a ticket in the Workshop live lotto we had it made tickets were relatively cheap to I recall they were only $700,000 Can someone please let me know how many of those jobs are still on the street?
    Then it was if we only had the money to play Theater sweepstakes, we paid and played if I remember correctly that was going to be the “destination” for all of the east coast let alone the City.
    The Jury is still out on the new Movie Theater, I sure hope it succeeds but the jury is out.
    Mr. Mayor and Councilors there is no easy fix no silver bullet no lottery ticket, like everything else it is going to take hard work and time. Statements that I know you don’t want to hear but we need leadership on the economic Development issue. I know it won’t be popular to say to the folks it’s going to be hard we need all hands on deck. But it will be honest.
    Once we have a diverse vibrant economy a thriving downtown will follow.

    • danvalenti
      December 2, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

      JOE
      Journalistic scoops are always delicious as scoops of Hagen Daas on a hot day.

  5. dean
    December 2, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

    the downtown revision report done at the beginning of the year was a great start, however this city is much better at planning then implementing, probably because it uses the same people on boards and commissions over and over again, partially because of political favoritism but even more so because nobody appropriatly steps up to the plate. downtown can thrive despite its physical drawbacks it could work out just fine. but its part of the cycle that unfortunately isnt being completed with new jobs and better education… and so we wait

  6. Marcus A.
    December 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    The “vibe,” what Mr. Valenti calls the “it” factor, isn’t not there on NorthStreet downtown on a regular basis. The only time you have it is if there’s an exception: Third Thursdays or some other gimmick. Vibrant funtioning downtowns have the “it” all the time. They also do not have scary looking zombie type people there to terrorize your wife and hit you up for money (if not hit you)

  7. Josh
    December 2, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    Dan,

    Though I’m only 22 and never lived through the heyday of North Street, I can point to several areas in the downtown which have changed for the better in the past decade. One example in the southernmost corridor of North Street. When I was only 10, England Brothers, JJ Newberry’s, and Kinnell/Kresge were largely dormant and decrepit, making the “It’s Happening” mantra of the Doyle era seem rather hollow. One decade later, and that corridor seems to have reinvented itself for the better, with a fully occupied Legacy Bank headquarters, blooming Central Block, and the Beacon Cinema. Whether these enterprises will withstand the test of time? We will have to wait and see. However, it is a change which I believe has been for the better.

    However, the Downtown is still plagued by the stigma which is the all too visible presence of social services in key retail areas. It doesn’t say much about our economic viability when two organizations occupying two major storefronts are Ad-Lib and the Berkshire Juvenile Court. This is not to take away from anything that they do, as they are important pieces to at risk populations in any community, but how can we expect to attract viable business owners to a heavily traveled portion of the city when social services are eating up key retail zones?

    I was disappointed by the Licensing Board’s decision not to renew The Market’s seasonal license for liquor several weeks ago, and this very well may have been a deciding factor in their call to shut down for good. I am equally disturbed by this latest news of Dottie’s getting grief over their outdoor cafe, something which Pittsfield desperately needs more of. If Pittsfield wants to keep good business owners in business, why do they keep alienating them? Kind of reminds you of NBC a little bit. All of their top talent (Carson, Letterman, Conan) leaves disgruntled. This happens all too much in Pittsfield and it needs to stop.

    I concur with John Barrett’s assessment that an important key to sustainability is the development of a “housing bubble” downtown. (Side Note: Does anyone ever notice that when John Barrett really likes something, he prefaces it by saving “I don’t really believe in___________”?). It’s important to keep people living in Pittsfield and shopping in Pittsfield. However, as I elaborated on in the previous topic, you need to offer something that the people will catch onto in order to have a long term shot at surviving.

    I have a better feeling about places like the New Berry Place and Chapters for the long term because their proprietors actually “get it”. They know Pittsfield’s still very parochial and not-quite-wannabe-hipster attitude. They understand what the people want. This is what keeps people in business and not out on the street in less than a year.

    • danvalenti
      December 3, 2010 at 9:48 am #

      JOSH
      This is an amazing, well crafted, and insightful response. It has a maturity that goes beyond most 22 year olds. You are exactly the kind of intelligent reader I am looking to attract. Thanks for your contributions. Keep it going.

  8. Asking for Sanity
    December 3, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    Yes, Chapters owners seem to get it, as Josh says. The store has had a slow summer and for a while was on the edge, teetering. I go there and try to encourage others as well. Love On a Roll at Newberry’s. Best lunches around. So there’s a lot happening and more to come.

  9. Jim Gleason
    December 3, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    North St. hasn’t been really vibrant since the late 60′s and early 70′s. There were large crowds EVRY Thursday and most Saturdays too. There were clothing stores for both men and women, restaurants, movie theaters and car dealerships. On North St now you can even buy a pair of Levi’s but you can go to 19 different restaurants. Now, with things closing, I see it as the start of a spiral to somewhere. You can’t say down because it was never back up.

  10. Dean
    December 4, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    If Pittsfield sucks so bad your more then welcome to leave Jim… ill even donate a uhaul

  11. Jay elling
    December 6, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    I would appriciate it if you removed my photo of ernie.
    Thanks.
    Working on many other responses to your arguments, but first thungs first.

    • danvalenti
      December 6, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

      Will do, Jay.

  12. really?
    December 7, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    “This column is in cyberspace, which moves in nanoseconds.”

    It appears that you just don’t have time for proper journalism.

    If your cyberspace moves so very fast, why have you not removed Jay Elling’s photo yet?

    It seems as though you dont have a real excuse for such poor journalism.