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Pittsfield Downtown Experimenting With 'Pod' Dining
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:25PM / Monday, October 05, 2020
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Pittsfield has purchased three enclosed seating areas that use solar power for heat and electricity. The pods will be set near local restaurants for use in outside dining.


The three pods were setup at Hotel on North last week but are expected to be moved to other locations this week. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is experimenting with glass houses to offer diners some pandemic-safe socializing in comfort.
 
In partnership with Berkshire Bank, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., and nonprofit green energy organization SolarFi, three of SolarFi's patented Prive pods will be installed for the use of local restaurants.
 
The pods were initially set up at Hotel on North for tryouts last week using the recent grant the city received from the state's Shared Streets and Spaces grant. They are expected to be spread out to other eateries in the downtown although those restaurants have not yet been designated.
 
"The Prive pods have been approved by the state even though they were not originally in project conditions," said Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales on Friday.
 
The city received $238,826 from the state Department of Transportation to support 20 placemaking projects. The grant program provides funds for cities and towns to improve curbs, streets, and parking spaces to support public health, safe mobility, and renewed commerce in communities. 
 
The pods look like little greenhouses and use solar power to provide lighting, air conditioning and heat, charging stations, and Bluetooth speakers. These pods also provide up to 100 percent UV protection, making them a good solution for outdoor dining. They can hold from two to 10 people.
 
During COVID-19, North Street restaurants have struggled to find sufficient outdoor dining spaces. With an autumn chill in the air, outdoor dining will become even more of a struggle. 
 
Morales worked with SolarFi and Downtown Pittsfield Inc. to provide consulting and approval for the pods. 
 
He said the pods bought by the city will be geared toward winter dining, as restaurants are still operating under partial capacity because of COVID-19. Restaurants will be consulted to see if they are interested in using a pod then a decision will be made which ones will get to use them.
 
There had been hopes to install three more at Park Square but this did not fall within the parameters of the grant, which is designed in part to improve commercial activities. However, SolarFi is reportedly in talks with area restaurants that may be interested in purchasing their products.
 
The pods in Park Square were supposed to double as art displays, showcasing graphic panels curated by the Berkshire Museum and featuring a collection of historical images of Pittsfield. It's not clear if that will be carried out with the three pods that were delivered. 
 
SolarFi is a non-profit organization that says it aims to revolutionize commerce, development and sustainability by using solar energy and connectivity, including reusing discarded solar panels in its products. The Prive pods that will be dotting downtown Pittsfield are made in New York. 
 
The company also does work in Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Botswana making solar-power charging stations for people in rural areas.  
 
Some of the benefits of these charging stations include empowering woman entrepreneurs to be able to run their business from a phone and providing children with educational videos on the screens inside of the stations.  
 
"The union between SolarFi, the City of Pittsfield, and local businesses is an exemplary public-private partnership," wrote Anna Lippincott of SolarFi. "Integrating entrepreneurship and innovation into the community is a perfect showcase of low local businesses are adapting in these trying times."
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