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Working together

Northfield business, tourism group touts what its area has to offer

  • Recorder file photo<br/>The Centennial House Bed and Breakfast on Main Street in Northfield.

    Recorder file photo
    The Centennial House Bed and Breakfast on Main Street in Northfield.

  • Recorder file photo/Paul Franz<br/>Karina Berenson works in her Dala Bird shop in the Green Trees Gallery in Northfield.

    Recorder file photo/Paul Franz
    Karina Berenson works in her Dala Bird shop in the Green Trees Gallery in Northfield.

  • Recorder file photo<br/>The Centennial House Bed and Breakfast on Main Street in Northfield.
  • Recorder file photo/Paul Franz<br/>Karina Berenson works in her Dala Bird shop in the Green Trees Gallery in Northfield.

NORTHFIELD — Area business owners are putting aside competition in favor of cooperation to make the northern Pioneer Valley a destination for tourists and shoppers from near and far.

“When one business succeeds, everyone succeeds,” said Joan Stoia. “A rising tide lifts all ships.”

She and husband Steve Stoia own Centennial House, a Northfield bed and breakfast. They’re also members of a collaboration of businesses in Northfield, Bernardston, and Gill — The Northfield Area Business and Tourism Association. It aims to turn the north county communities into a gateway for the rest of the valley.

The group maintains a website, and publishes a map and brochure that highlights and maps out participating businesses.

“The website gets about 1,000 unique visits per month,” said David Pontius, owner of Northfield Coffee and Books, and webmaster for the association.

“I also hand out several brochures each week,” said Pontius. The shop gets a lot of through-traffic, and those who stop by for a quick coffee often wonder what else is nearby, he said.

The double-barreled approach can reach visitors before and after they arrive in the area.

“When I first moved here, I looked online a lot to find out what was around here,” said Karina Berenson. Now, she’s been in Northfield for a decade, and opened her own store, as well. Dala Bird was supposed to be a holiday pop-up shop in the Green Trees Gallery, but Berenson saw such a warm reception, she decided to make a go at it year-round.

In their 10 years in town, the Stoias have been trying to drum up business for their neighbors and themselves.

“When we moved here in October of 2003, the business community in town seemed to be vanishing,” said Joan Stoia.

So, she got together with Janice Starmer, former owner of Green Trees Gallery. They reached out to other businesses, and organized the first annual Special Day in Northfield, a townwide holiday shopping event, eight years ago.

“Special Day is a model of business cooperation,” said Joan Stoia. “People from Turners Falls, Greenfield, Vermont, New Hampshire and more discovered the town. It was great for all of our businesses.”

She hopes to make that kind of cooperation a year-round thing, with the area serving as a widespread shopping and recreation center, rather than a set of scattered shops.

“We want to create a sort of regional mall, for lack of a better term,” she said. “The former Northfield Mount Hermon campus would be one anchor, in the north, and Kringle Candle would be the anchor store in the south, and everything else filling the spaces between.”

Before NMH consolidated to its Gill campus in 2005, the 500 prep school students it boarded, their visiting friends and relatives, and employees of the school were a boon to the Northfield economy.

The 217-acre campus is now in the hands of the National Christian Foundation, which seeks a permanent owner for the property, be it another school, a religious nonprofit or something else entirely. Until an owner is announced, area businesses will have to wait to see what the northern anchor of that “regional mall” will be.

Most malls have a directory, to help shoppers find what they’re looking for. That’s where the brochure comes in.

It also serves as a pocket concierge for guests at The Inn at Crumpin-Fox, said innkeeper Anthony Matteo.

“A lot of people come to our golf course, and take advantage of our ‘stay and play’ package,” said Matteo. “They want to know where other things in the area are, and the map is great for that. The brochures fly off the shelf.”

The inn’s guests also include people who come for big events like the recent Green River Festival in Greenfield, but want to stay in a quieter location.

The country setting of the three towns offers its own kind of excitement.

Local outdoor enthusiasts Samuel and Barbara Richardson want to promote the area’s recreational opportunities.

The newly minted New England National Scenic Trail goes right through Northfield, and bike paths connect the town to other towns in the county as well as New Hampshire and Vermont.

“There will be a big influx of hikers,” said Samuel Richardson. “That will impact the businesses in town.”

There’s also the Connecticut River, and all the opportunities for recreation that it provides, like fishing and boating.

“It would be great to have a place that through-paddlers could dock, have secure storage for their things, and go into town,” said Stoia. Such a docking area could even support a shuttle service, she added.

Despite the sluggish economy, said Stoia, local businesses are eager to collaborate on the brochure, and readily gave their financial support.

“When we told people it was time to put out another brochure, they gave us their checks before their photos or ad copy,” she said.

For $100, businesses got a text-only listing in the brochure, and were also placed on the included map. For another $50, they could include pictures.

Between design work and printing, the 7,500 brochures printed cost the association about $3,400. Stoia said large contributions from Lane Construction Co. and NMH were crucial to funding the brochure.

To see a digital version of the brochure and map, go to www.visitnorthfieldarea.com.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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