Charlemont business landscape changing quickly amid struggles

Heritage Diner at 90 Main St. in Charlemont.

Heritage Diner at 90 Main St. in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Berkshire Pizzeria at 72 Main St. in Charlemont.

Berkshire Pizzeria at 72 Main St. in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Wells Provisions at 159 Main St. in Charlemont.

Wells Provisions at 159 Main St. in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Avery’s General Store at 127 Main St. in Charlemont.

Avery’s General Store at 127 Main St. in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-25-2024 10:34 AM

CHARLEMONT — Despite Berkshire East Mountain Resort attracting thousands of out-of-towners every winter, and Zoar Outdoor and Crab Apple Whitewater bringing people in during the summer, entrepreneurs in the commercial district say owning a business in Charlemont is still incredibly difficult and they are barely getting by each season as new challenges arise.

“I work to make enough money to make payroll,” said Stephen Thayer, who owns Heritage Diner at 90 Main St. “I am just too stubborn to stop.”

With Wells Provisions and Cold River Cafe closing in the past couple of months, and Greg Rowehl, co-owner of Berkshire Pizzeria, recently announcing he and his wife are selling their business and building, the landscape of stores and restaurants in Charlemont is drastically changing in a short period.

These changes are also coming with positives, though. A new brewery plans to move into the space that once housed Cold River Cafe and an ice cream truck owned by Avery’s General Store co-manager David Kong may be coming to town this summer.

Seasonal businesses

While outdoor recreation brings people to Charlemont year-round, business owners report that summer is the busiest season.

Many business owners say that skiers are not interested in stopping minutes from the ski mountain to purchase food and gifts, instead opting to drive to Greenfield or Shelburne Falls, or stay in the ski lodge at the mountain.

This may be because of the distance, Avery’s General Store co-manager Ken Hall pointed out. He said because skiers cannot walk to the town center from the mountain, they choose to drive the extra 10 to 30 minutes to other areas with more options. With the two restaurants closing, Hall thinks this could be hurting all the businesses in town.

Last summer was particularly hard. According to the business owners interviewed for this article, most of the tourists who patronize their businesses are campers from the Mohawk Trail State Forest, particularly on rainy days. The forest was closed to campers in 2023 for a $1.4 million project repairing the water system and infrastructure. With no campers, the businesses incurred a great loss. Thayer said campers account for up to one-third of the year’s sales.

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Rowehl and Thayer both said that their businesses did better during COVID-19 lockdowns than they are now. They said this may be because people were traveling out of state less, so outdoor recreation tourists from Boston were more likely to stop in Charlemont.

A difficult year

The business owners indicated that sales in 2023 were notably worse than the year before, prompting changes in hours, staffing levels and suppliers of ingredients.

Rowehl said Berkshire Pizzeria used to be open seven days a week; now it is open just four days with limited hours and often serving a limited menu. Thayer said Heritage Diner used to employ a dishwasher, but that individual was laid off about two months ago as there wasn’t enough work to merit the position.

Between high taxes, Sewer District fees and huge increases in ingredient costs, business owners say they are struggling to make a profit.

“The expenses are eating up all the profits,” Rowehl said. “I can control where I buy my food but it is tough.”

Thayer said he has stopped using a supplier for his products and instead drives to Chicopee or Albany, New York, to find better prices.

“The locals are trying their darndest to keep me in business,” Thayer said, adding that with a tight economy he sees the entire community struggling.

Some of the owners are hopeful to turn business around in summer 2024.

“We hope the summer picks up and we do better,” Kong said.

“Right now it seems like we see 50 cars go by,” Hall added, “and those people are not stopping in town anymore.”

Reach Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.