ONE SIMPLE QUESTION HOLDS THE KEY TO THE FATE OF DOWNTOWN PITTSFIELD. QUESTION IS, ‘DO YOU DARE TO HONESTLY ASK IT’?
BY DAN VALENTI
Editor’s Note: We’ll add some pretty pictures later. Check back in tonight for that and more content.
The subject of Downtown Pittsfield will not go away, judging by the reaction THE PLANET received to our previous two posts. In addition to the replies, we have had e-mails, in-person reaction, and other feedback. Most of it is passionate, sincere, and resolute. The one thing in common with most all positions on the spectrum — from one end of “The Downtown is a Paradisic Heaven” to “The Downtown is an Abject Embarrassment” — is the genuineness. People are concerned. Everyone has a set of ideas of how to make it better.
That’s the second shared aspect of the recent flurry of downtown commentary. Complimenters and critics honestly feel that their input is geared toward improving the current situation. Supporters admit that there are downtown issues. Critics readily point out the progress that’s been made. This allows for a lot of common ground.
THE PLANET takes a back seat to no one as an advocate for revitalization. For 28 years, from 1980 to 2008, we had out offices on North Street. For the first three years, we were located on the second floor of Crawford Square (then called the El-Glo Mall, and where I met my sweet wife, who was in 1980 assistant manager of Endicott-Johnson Shoe Store). In 1984, the Media Services Group moved across the street to 150 North St., in the historic Shipton Building.
THE PLANET’S Presence in Downtown Pittsfield Meant Millions
We stayed there until Sept. 1, 1980. In that time, my company employed more than 70 full time people and countless free lancers. We paid good salaries (in 1994, for example, the average salary for the six writers on payroll was $50,000) and provided benefits. We ate downtown, shopped there, and contributed out intellectual presence. We paid taxes for our offices. Over the years, the presence of my business meant millions to the downtown economy.
When it came time to have a launch party for my new company, Planet Media Books, and our first title (“Spring’s Third Day” by Laura Gross), we chose Chapters Bookstore in the downtown. We could have done it in Lee, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, or Lenox, and had offers. THE PLANET selected Pittsfield. We did our marketing, involved the city, and on a Friday night (Nov. 12), we were able to attract more than 100 people for the program. Some 40 percent bought books. Poetry, in downtown Pittsfield, on a dark November Friday night, selling out: this shows the latent potential. This shows it CAN be done.
“It” means “the vibe” currently not there. As some of correspondents have pointed out, “the vibe” can happen on occasion (our book launch, Third Thursdays, and for other special promotions). That’s a given, but it’s also not the point. The point is that vibrant, lively, and “happening” downtowns have “the vibe” 24/7. Examples abound: One of my favorites is downtown Portland, Maine. Anyone who wants to see a center city thriving need only go there … or to Newburyport, Maine, or Burlington, Vt.
What Do We Do? Read On
We should now stop and assess the condition. Apologists for the downtown, including professional apologists such as the taxpayer-supported Downtown Pittsfield Inc. and to an extent the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, have to be able to admit to reality. Over-the-top critics have to be able to admit the progress. Then, the next step is to supply answers, from which will come THE RESPONSE (or the strategic action plan), to this question:
HOW DO YOU CREATE “THE VIBE” — NOT FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS AND NOT IN A GIMMICKY WAY, WHICH ALREADY TAKES PLACE — BUT ON A 24/7 BASIS.
If we can answer that question and implement a plan into action, Downtown Pittsfield will come back. If we can’t answer it, and, like so many other things in Pittsfield, we allow the corrosive politics and its ensuing fear to keep a hold, it will not happen.
It’s as simple as that.