Northfield merchants: College will bring a boost

  • Recorder file photo/Paul Franz<br/>The Northfield Food Mart in downtown Northfield.
  • NorthfieldMimsMarketPF-GR-100112.jpg

NORTHFIELD – “The college is going to save the town, as far as I’m concerned.”

William Barnes, owner of the Northfield Food Mart, thinks the coming of Grand Canyon University will bring about the boost Northfield businesses need.

“Most Northfield businesses are struggling,” he said. “I love the town as it is, and if businesses in town could make a good living as it is now, I’d be against a large college. But there aren’t too many negatives to it, as far as I’m concerned.”

Many Main Street businesses think they’ll see a boost from the 5,000-student college, which GCU officials hope to open in 2014 with 500 students and 60 employees.

Even before that, Barnes expects business to pick up. GCU hopes to start building on the campus in the spring, and Barnes expects hungry construction workers to stop by his store.

Though many Main Street shopkeeps expect their business to increase, they don’t expect excessive growth.

“I don’t think there will be a lot of new businesses moving in,” said Kathy Crochier, owner of the Notch, a breakfast and lunch counter. Though she doesn’t see new shops sprouting up all along Main Street, there is one business in particular she’d be excited to see.

“I hope we get a gas station,” she said. “If we don’t, people will take their money over the (New Hampshire) border, or down to Greenfield, and we’ll lose out.”

Crochier is not alone in wishing there was a place to fill up in town. The town of 3,000 once had seven gas stations, but the last one closed in 2008. Barnes agreed that he’d like to have a place nearby to fill his tank, too.

Though there are those in town who don’t want to see a large college come in, Crochier feels it was the better choice. The other top contender for the campus, the North American Mission Board, had planned a training and retreat center, serving up to 400 people for short stays, mostly training and retreats.

“I don’t think people from the NAMB would have been coming off of the campus and into town (as much as GCU’s faculty and staff might),” she said.

Crochier said her businesses is enough to make a living, but not much more. She caters mostly to regular customers, with several retirees coming in for their morning meal. She said she expects business to pick up once GCU is up and running, and hopes to have some new regulars in amongst the familiar faces.

Northfield Coffee and Books owner David Pontius said he’d be glad to have some new customers, as well.

“I think we’ll certainly see a boost,” he said. “I’ll probably gear up once the college is running. I could open up some more study space, and maybe stay open at night.”

He said he may even double his staff, from two employees to four.

Pontius isn’t concerned about the town becoming flooded with new businesses.

“We have a very limited amount of commercial space,” he said. Most of the town is zoned for residential and agricultural use, requiring special permits for businesses to operate.

Kim Farmer, owner of Mims Market, agrees.

“I think if it’s all handled properly, it could be extremely good for the town,” she said. “I can’t see how it wouldn’t boost business.” She and Pontius both hope that boost is enough to warrant a gas station.

Farmer said that she thinks the town could change for the better, if everything is handled with care.

“I hope everyone works together to make the transition orderly. Hopefully it will be acceptable to everyone; I don’t want to see the town torn apart.”

But for now, said Farmer, it’s business as usual.

“Some people have said I should add onto the store,” she said. “But we’re still waiting for a definite answer. I’ll deal with things as they come.”

Though GCU has been offered the property, the college still has a chance to turn it down, if it turns out the school’s plans won’t work. For now, the campus is still owned by Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., though owners said they’d like the property to change hands by the end of the year.

David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413 772-0261 ext. 279

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