Marshall Raser, owner of Carr Hardward, is given the Downtown Person of the Year Award for not only owning a longstanding business but for his volunteer efforts.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Something new, something old, and something colorful.
The awards given out at Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s annual meeting this year represented a range of what has been happening in the downtown, whether that be the efforts of those behind Berkshire Pride Festival to Carr Hardware's 90 years of business to the First Friday Arts Walk that continually drives foot traffic.
"Berkshire Pride Festival is more than an event, however, it has become a touchstone of the community that has inspired more connections and ignited a fire of inspiration," said Downtown Pittsfield Executive Director Cheryl Mirer at during the gathering at the Beacon Theater on Thursday morning.
"It is not the first time the pride event has been held in the Berkshires but it is the first time it was held on this scale."
The festival is entering its third year. It grew from an idea in 2017 and an inaugural event on a shoestring budget to raising some $9,000 to put on the event at the Common that drew nearly a thousand people to the city's downtown.
"It was a culmination of 14-year-old queer and trans kid's dream who back in 2001 said, 'I want to organize a pride event in Pittsfield someday.' It took a while but that dream came true on June 24, 2017," Mirer said.
Kenneth Mercure and Mark LeBeau were given the Downtown Pittsfield Community Award for their efforts in organizing it. The third one will be held on June 15.
That may be a new event to the city's downtown but a stable presence has been Carr Hardware. Marshall Raser, the owner, was presented the Robert T. Quattrochi Downtown Person of the Year Award for his longstanding presence not only in owning the hardware store downtown but his personal involvement a number of volunteer boards.
"Every time I go into Carr Hardware, I go in there a little bit nervous but hopeful. And I leave knowing that I have the right tools in my hand and right instructions in my brain and the confidence to tackle what I need to do," said Noel Henebury, Downtown Pittsfield's Foot Traffic Commitment chairman.
Carr has had a home in the city for 90 years and the company continues to grow its footprint throughout the Northeast.
"You have outlasted and outmaneuvered everything, Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon. Not only have you triumphed, you are now expanding. That is incredible," she told Raser.
About a decade ago, Mary McGinnis, owner of Mary's Carrot Cake, noticed there was a high demand for artists wanting to show their work in her shop. So she founded the First Fridays Artswalk.
"The concept is pretty simple, the first Friday night of every month a bunch of businesses and other venues in the downtown area, restaurants, cultural organization, stay open and have one, sometimes two artists, per venue that display their works there," Downtown Pittsfield President Jesse Cook-Dubin said.
Every month, except January, the first Friday brings foot traffic to the downtown as people visit the various shops to see the artwork on display. Cook-Dubin said while there hasn't been an economic impact study on it, he estimates the sales driven by the event to be in the thousands of dollars.
The annual meeting features the election of new and returning board members and leadership but also provides a spotlight on what the organization and others are doing to help drive the downtown economy. Downtown Pittsfield Inc. provides a number of efforts toward that end.
Mirer said new to the organization is membership meetings. Each month the organization will meet at a different business or location to discuss relevant topics. That's included getting the business owners together to talk about parking, to tour Hotel on North, to join a 1Berkshire networking event, to discuss marketing, and to visit restaurants and eateries.
The organization creates and prints the downtown guide to help market the city's main corridor and creates marketing pieces for magazines and websites.
"Distribution of guides will begin next week, downtown and across the county," Mirer said.
She said Downtown Pittsfield Inc. continues to grow its social media presence to market the city's downtown as well.
"On a weekly basis we have thousands of people visiting our Facebook page, website, and we reach thousands more though our weekly e-newsletter," Mirer said.
The organization also heads the downtown ambassador program, which puts people on the street both to welcome visitors and residents and provide an additional measure of public safety.
"The ambassadors are walking concierges, a welcoming, information-sharing resource for residents, employees, and visitors. Their services provide access, communication to help visitors find parking, offer directions and wayfinding, provide information on dining, shopping, and cultural activities," Mirer said.
Executive Director Cheryl Mirer discusseds the efforts the organization has been undertaking to drive the downtown economy.
"Safety: ambassadors are trained by the Pittsfield Police Department in CPR, public safety protocol, and certified in first aid. Ambassadors observe street activities and when needed call for assistance via police radios."
At the same time, the organization puts on numerous events throughout the year to drive foot traffic.
But their efforts aren't done in a vacuum. The organization has a symbiotic relationship with the city and Mayor Linda Tyer highlighted some of the efforts her administration is doing to also support the downtown economy.
"We are happy to be able to infuse additional funds in the Downtown Inc. budget," Tyer said.
"All of you may have known that there was a period of time early in my administration when we were experiencing a fiscal crisis and we had to manage that to the best of our ability. We've done that. We have started to recovery. During that time we had to make some really difficult decisions, including reducing our share of funds we give to Downtown Inc. But I am happy to be in a position to tell you that we are in a position to make that up."
The city had drastically reduced the amount it was giving Downtown Pittsfield in the past and Tyer said she is hoping to put in another $10,000 toward those efforts.
Meanwhile, the city's nearing the end of construction of a new surface lot on Columbus Avenue. The garage there had been in poor shape, the top floor was closed, and had become an eyesore and came with a sense of insecurity for those parking there. The city has contracted to have it demolished and a new lot created.
"The Columbus Avenue parking garage: It is demolished and we are in the process of building the surface lot. It should be open for business by June 1," Tyer said. "I think what impresses me most when I drive by there is how it changed the landscape of that central block of our downtown."
She highlighted the partnership the city has with Pittsfield Beautiful to clean and spruce up North Street.
"We are partnering with them again this year. We have a new landscape contractor who will help us maintain our streetscape. We're looking forward to a very successful partnership to keep our front porch, which I think our downtown is, looking beautiful, lively and vibrant for everyone who visits and shops," Tyer said.
She said Berkshire Lightscapes will soon be flipping the switch, improving the looks of downtown, and highlighted the recent business conversation at Framework as helping to network and drive new businesses to the city's downtown.
Tyer said there is more to come. Three restaurants -- the Lantern, Methuselah, and District -- are being invested in with the Lantern re-opening recently under new management and the others looking to expand. Plus Wayfair's bringing 300 new jobs to the city that also will bring potential customers to downtown businesses.
"This is a sign of a strong economy in our downtown," the mayor said.
On the state level, Sen. Adam Hinds is looking at bringing the Berkshire Flyer to fruition. Next June he hopes to have a pilot passenger rail program that will bring visitors from New York City on a train to the downtown on weekends. He's advocating for funds in the state budget to make that happen.
"It looks pretty good that we will get the operational money and the marketing money," Hinds said.
Hinds also highlighted state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier's budget request for a feasibility study of having the city own and operate a high-speed internet service. He said the 160 people living in Mount Washington have fiber to their homes but downtown Pittsfield does not. He said there are companies like Vidmob that are "hidden gems" and can benefit from a reliable and fast internet system.
"It is doing groundbreaking video production for companies around the country, really around the world actually. And they are doing it with a small group of a dozen people using high-end technology," Hinds said.
Hinds said there is excitement on the state level for Pittsfield. He recently had a meeting with a local company that is now looking to expand with a second facility in a different district. He said he was impressed thinking that the efforts put in to help the economy in Pittsfield are paying dividends.
"You pinch yourself in those moments. Wow, we're kind of where a world-class company is developing and we are on the front end and it is because of investments in the Berkshire Innovation Center, it is because of investments in a whole range of issues in the city that allows someone to say we arew going to start it right here," Hinds said.
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