local artisans

Thriving Arts Scene in Western MA!

As an ex-New Yorker and realtor, I have a natural affinity for old mill buildings and factories. It's so exciting to see the development of our local mill buildings, such as those in Holyoke and Easthampton, where new businesses are growing and thriving. Recent years have seen development further south in Springfield, with the creation of the MGM complex; not to mention preexisting venues such at the Springfield Symphony Hall and the Majestic Theatre. We are lucky to live in an area with a wide array of cultural and sporting events to take advantage of. The following piece from MassLive goes into greater detail about our local arts and entertainment growth.

 

The Gateway City Arts Complex in Holyoke (Don Treeger / The Republican)By George Lenker | Special to The Republican

Western Massachusetts arts scene thrives with ‘amazing venues’

While it may still be too early to make any final assessment, there seems to be a growing sentiment among Western Massachusetts’ arts and entertainment promoters that MGM Springfield has not had the negative effect on neighboring entertainment venues that was once feared.

Now entering its third year, the casino resort draws approximately 15,000 visitors daily, but those entertainment dollars don’t seem to be coming largely out of the pockets of other arts and entertainment venues.

“I haven’t seen any downside from MGM Springfield. Our number of shows and tickets sold in the region has increased every year and I expect that trend to continue in 2020,” says John Sanders, a partner and talent buyer for Dan Smalls Presents, an agency that books shows up and down the Pioneer Valley. “I’d actually like to be doing more in Springfield at Symphony Hall and hope to be able to develop a working relationship with MGM to do that.”

Jim Neill, marketing director of Northampton’s multi-venue Iron Horse Entertainment Group, agrees about MGM Springfield not having much of a negative effect.

“They are one more player at the table for some of the same shows everyone else is vying for, so sometimes a show we’d have done will go their way. But in many cases they are doing shows that wouldn’t make sense for us anyway,” Neill says. “After all the anticipation about the casino, the reality is that it hasn’t had a major impact on us.”

MGM itself seems to be doing just fine, as well.

Michael Mathis, former president of MGM Springfield, said 2020 looks bright for the casino. Part of its success, Mathis said, comes from customer feedback.

“Shortly after we opened, we launched a ‘You Said We Did’ campaign, where we solicited customer feedback and then worked to implement their suggestions. This is common practice in the industry,” Mathis said. “We opened a new VIP Lounge based on conversations with our guests. Most recently, we started construction on a new VIP parking area on the second floor of the garage.”

For Danny Eaton, director of the Majestic Theater across the river in West Springfield, the casino has served as a corporate sponsor, so there has been no downside for him.

“For the two years they were under construction, they were a corporate sponsor. Then, once open, for the next five years they (agreed to continue) with their corporate sponsorship but also buy the house for one performance of each of our five plays,” Eaton says. “So, the MGM impact has been and continues to be a benefit to us.”

In general, Eaton says his subscription-based theater has held steady and actually saw an uptick over the past year. “I certainly attribute it to the mix of plays we offer each year; that’s pretty much held true over the years,” he adds.

Neill says the challenges for Iron Horse in the arts and entertainment market remain the same.

“Competing promoters, getting attention as a secondary market and building new acts. Balancing the more adventurous booking with time-tested favorites,” he says. “Staying passionate about the music is the easy part. There are so many talented artists out there, old and new, and we always have our ears to the ground. We’re always planting seeds that will grow into tomorrow’s staples.”

Neill adds that he was excited about the prospects in 2020. “Our spring calendar is packed. We’re beyond thrilled to have Courtney Barnett playing the Iron Horse on her small club tour. Also at the Horse we’ve got Nada Surf, Dar Williams, KT Tunstall, Altan, Lunasa, Loudon, Holly Near, and prog legends Nektar, to name a handful,” he said. “At the Calvin we have Kamasi Washington, Gaelic Storm, the High Kings, comedian Nate Bergatze, a Guster show March 28 that’s almost sold out already.”

Sanders says he, too, is hopeful about the coming year as Dan Smalls Presents (DSP) represents sustainable growth.

“My work with DSP started five years ago and our growth, I believe, has been pretty organic,” he says. “I moved to Northampton and started promoting shows in Western Massachusetts – oh boy, 20 years ago – so my relationships run pretty deep. There was a need to create new opportunities for touring artists to perform in the region, and we’ve developed great partnerships with a few amazing venues in the valley.”

Along with looking to bring some shows to Springfield Symphony Hall, Sanders says Dan Smalls Presents is also planning on expanding its usage in venues it already employs.

“We did six incredible shows at the Pines (Theater in Look Park, Northampton) in 2019 and will likely at least double that amount in 2020,” he says. “I’m very excited to be working with the team at Look Park to be bringing back live music to this amazing spot. We’ll start rolling out the shows later this month, and I hope the valley will be as excited as I am about the lineup we have this summer.”

One venue Sanders already works with, Holyoke’s Gateway City Arts, has been growing and expanding since beginning in 2011. Gateway City Arts co-director Vitek Kruta says 2019 was great in terms of finalizing and completing the venue’s construction phase.

“We now arrived at the turning point. We also created very successful relationships with (Dan Smalls Presents), Signature Sounds and few other promoters,” Kruta says. “We updated our sound system to state-of-the-art quality with help of Klondike Sound so we can not only assure best quality entertainment but also to attract bands who require that level of quality.”

Kruta saw last year as a year of completion. Along with creating a small works gallery now featuring regularly changing shows, the venue also now has a new bar-restaurant called Judd’s, featuring Czech-American cuisine, a theater, a tap room, a music hall, and woodworking and ceramic shops for use by members.

As for his outlook for 2020, Kruta says, “Holyoke is a home to lots of artists and amazing talent. In the past few years, some artists unfortunately moved away or passed away, and the scene was kind of quiet. But it is slowly coming back and we are going to see more activities this year.”

Over in Easthampton, Rachel Phillips, the chair of Easthampton’s Cultural Council, says 2019 was a great year of growth for her city as far as the arts, and she sees more of the same for this year.

“The city engaged in a series of facilitated community workshops, the Easthampton Futures Project, inviting community members to envision the next iteration of the arts and culture chapter of the city’s master plan,” Phillips says. “And, with more event venues like CitySpace on the horizon and our Millpond Live festival in August and September, 2020 should be yet another banner year for the city.”

Weekend Events in the Northampton Area!

Hello Northampton Area Friends! We wanted to remind you of some fun and important upcoming holiday (and non-holiday) events going on in the area this weekend.

The 16th Annual Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage is happening in Northampton this Sunday, December 7th. The first event starts at 9 a.m. in the parking lot next to the Northampton Brewery. There are many local businesses present, giving away goodies. It's fun to cheer on the many walkers and runners who have raised money for this wonderful event!

The Cottage Street Open Studio Sale is on this weekend and next! The dates are December 7, 8 and 14th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Cottage Street Studios in Easthampton.

The Easthampton Art Walk, which occurs on the 2nd Saturday of each month, is scheduled for next Saturday, December 14th, after the Cottage Street Open House. 

The 8th Annual Holiday Toy Exchange is happening next weekend. Toys can be dropped off on 12/13, the exchange itself is on the 14th. The event is run nearly entirely by volunteers, and is co-sponsored by the Northampton Department of Public Works and its ReUse Committee and by Northampton Public Schools/Coordinated Family and Community Engagement. Those wishing to donate used toys can do so from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, at the cafeteria of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. Toys should be clean and complete. More information can be found on this flyer

Lastly, The 39th Annual Northampton Winter Craft Fair will take place Saturday, December 7 through Sunday, December 8, 2019. The event will benefit CHD’s Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Hampshire County in furthering its mission of creating and supporting one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. Join BBBS at Northampton High School to shop from a beautiful selection of goods produced by 90 artisans and a delightful children’s book sale. The event will feature live music, including local jazz artist Taylor McCoy, delicious food from Hillside Organic Pizza and Catering, and a silent auction taking place on Saturday. The fair is open 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sunday. The price of admission is $5 for adults and free for children. There is free parking on the premises. McCoy will perform from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Saturday and 12 – 2 p.m. on Sunday.

 

Eastworks Holiday Pop-Up Store in it's Sixth Year!

Still need to do some holiday shopping? The Eastworks Holiday Shop in Easthampton will be open through December 31st. I've found lovely and affordable gifts, made by local Northampton area artisans, every time I've made time to visit this pop up store, now in it's 6th year. Conveniently located in the Eastworks Building in downtown Easthampton, it's well worth a visit, so put it on your pre-holiday to-do list!  More information in the Daily Hampshire Gazette article to follow. Happy Holidays one and all!

NORTHAMPTON — Now in its sixth year, the Eastworks Holiday Pop Up Store continues to provide the wares of local artisans to those searching for the perfect gift.

Meanwhile, a very different kind of “pop up store” has made a seemingly permanent home in Absolute Zero, selling penguin-themed merchandise — and nothing else.

Beth McElhiney founded the Eastworks Holiday Pop Up Store the year she moved to Easthampton, and into Eastworks, from Martha’s Vineyard.

“I live in the building,” said McElhiney, who said that it made running the pop up all the more convenient for her.

The store runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, although McElhiney said that she may extend its duration into the new year this time.

The shop only sells items from local craftspeople and sellers, most of which are made in Eastworks itself, although there are also vintage items for sale. All told, 26 artists are represented in the shop this year.

McElhiney said that customers are often surprised that the store is a pop up shop, given the quality of what is offered.

“People are pretty stunned,” she said.

This is not McElhiney’s first store, however. In addition to having once owned a store on Martha’s Vineyard, she operated a shop on Madison Avenue in New York City.

One of the artists represented at the shop is McElhiney herself, who makes and enamels new jewelry and resurfaces vintage metal tabletop pieces. The process that McElhiney uses not only resurfaces antique pieces with modern colors, but makes them suitable for serving food at all temperatures and dishwasher safe.

McElhiney’s only employee at the pop up, Carol Ostberg, is another artisan who sells her wares there, offering hand-painted furniture and ornaments. McElhiney’s boyfriend also helps out with big events.

McElhiney said that she intends to keep bringing back the pop up as long as she can find a space. 

“Maybe eventually,” she said, on the prospect of making the pop up a year-round affair.

Penguins and ice cream

Eric Bennett has been selling penguin-theme merchandise since 1984, thanks to a penguin-loving girlfriend and a fateful visit to Faneuil Hall shopping center.

Now Bennett, who moved his business online in 1999, has set up a small shop in Absolute Zero selling all things penguin.

“It’s one of these things where everybody’s a winner,” said Bennett.

While on a walk in September, Bennett asked Absolute Zero if he could set up the shop after he noticed that the business projects a spinning penguin onto the sidewalk at night.

“They should have penguins,” was Bennett’s opinion upon seeing the logo.

However, he noted that it took a few weeks to convince Absolute Zero of this.

“We’re an ice cream store, not a penguin store,” is what Bennett said he was initially told.

In the end, an agreement was made in which Bennett would stock shelves in the store with a variety of penguin items, including socks, plush penguins and toys. They can be purchased at the counter at Absolute Zero, which then receives a cut.

“At the end of the month, we settle up,” he said.

Bennett has two of each of 30 to 40 penguin items at the store.

“It’s like Noah’s Ark,” said Bennett.

On his website, however, Bennett offers around 500 different types of penguin-theme products. Indeed, running Penguin Gift Shop is his full-time business.

Bennett first got into the penguin business after visiting Faneuil Hall with a penguin-loving girlfriend, and getting the thought that the cutest store idea would be one dedicated to penguins. However, he decided that he wouldn’t be willing to move from New York City to Boston to do so.

Then the South Street Seaport opened in Manhattan and Bennett, fresh out of college, decided to open a penguin store there in 1985. In 1997 he set up a website to sell his products, becoming an early commercial user of the internet, and in 1999 he moved out of his space in the seaport, bringing his business entirely online.

He and his family moved to Northampton in 2009, and he said that he enjoys living in the city.

Bennett said that he likes having the shop in Absolute Zero.

“I haven’t really had a retail presence since 1999,” he said.

He also said that he wasn’t sure how the shop would shape up when he first started it, but that he has no intention of doing away with it now. Thus, even though he’s characterized it as a pop up shop, this all-penguin establishment appears to have popped itself into permanency.

Two More Local Events for Your Calendar! Northampton and Easthampton.

Tonight, December 9th, from 6:30 until late in the Ballroom at Eastworks in Easthampton - STRUT, "a flamboyant fashion spectacle" and a reboot of Easthampton's annual "Light Up the Arts" Holiday Party, and includes a fashion show, live performances, art installations, a dance party and silent auction. It sounds like it will be a fantastic way to ring in the holiday season! This event is an ECA (Easthampton City Arts) fundraiser.

 

East Works Sign

 

Tomorrow, December 8th from 4-9 pm. The Northampton 2016 Holiday Stroll hosted by the Downtown Northampton Association looks as if it's shaping up to be an exciting event. There will be performances, shopping, artwork to view and make, and food. Main Street will be CLOSED to cars and trucks during the event. So get your parking spot ahead of time and plan to dress warmly and be on foot. All municipal lots will be open and accessible. Check out the hot link above for full details. 


Northampton Holiday Stroll Lights

 

Holidays Sales in Northampton, MA

LOCAL HOLIDAY SALES 

holiday banner

Well, it's that time of year again. If you haven't broken the bank on Black Friday through Cyber Monday (or #GivingTuesday) sales, here is a list of some Northampton area sales where local vendors sell their beautiful wares! Click on the links below for full details.

Cottage Street Studio Sale in Easthampton, MA this Friday (TODAY!), December 2nd

Pastiche @ Click Workspace  at Click Workspace in Northampton, MA on December 9th and 10th

Northampton Winter Craft Fair December 3rd and 4th at NHS - $4 admission supports Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Hampshire County

Holiday Flea Market at the American Legion Hall in Florence, MA on December 3rd, 9-2 pm 

Rebecca Rose STUDIO SALE - 112 Beacon Street, Florence MA

Dec.9th- 6:00 - 9:00; Dec. 10th - 10:00 - 1:00; Dec. 11th - 10:00 - 1:00