Lack of fall foliage hasn’t impacted western Mass businesses

The Mohawk Trail in Shelburne amid lackluster foliage this year.

The Mohawk Trail in Shelburne amid lackluster foliage this year. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

The Iron Bridge and Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls amid lackluster foliage this year.

The Iron Bridge and Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls amid lackluster foliage this year. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

The Duck Pond on the Mohawk Trail in Shelburne with bare trees and spots of color.

The Duck Pond on the Mohawk Trail in Shelburne with bare trees and spots of color. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

A church and hills in Shelburne Falls amid lackluster foliage this year.

A church and hills in Shelburne Falls amid lackluster foliage this year. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 10-26-2023 5:23 PM

Local businesses are reportedly holding their own this tourist season, even if the typical autumn foliage happens to fall short.

October is often the lifeblood for area shops and restaurants, and proprietors say customers are still flocking through the doors, though some have commented the leaves don’t have quite the same wow factor they’ve come to expect.

“Well, people are coming,” said Raymond Neal, owner of Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls and Roundabout Books in Greenfield. “A lot of people are still just happy they’re on vacation. But some people, they mention, ‘I was hoping that there would be really beautiful foliage.’ I talked to someone from the West Coast, for example, who said, ‘We don’t have this sort of like whole hillside of gleaming color — but this year, you guys don’t either.’

“Even people that went out to Williamstown were not finding what they were hoping for,” he continued, adding that they expected to see “a splash of iconic New England.”

But Neal, who plans to hold a Nov. 4 grand reopening for his new Roundabout Books location at 85 Pierce St. in Greenfield, mentioned he has spotted gorgeous individual trees throughout the small city he calls home.

“It’s a sense of awe,” he said.

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Extremely wet summers, like the one that just passed, can generate an abundance of moisture that produces fungal diseases on leaves. This causes them to turn yellow with brown spots, curl up and fall off trees early, reports Alexandra Kosiba, an assistant professor with the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment. Her colleague, Professor Bill Keeton, wrote that trees this year have been stressed by a summer of heavy rainfall that followed a drought, which can also force leaves to drop sooner than usual “and have more muted fall colors.”

According to unofficial statistics from the National Weather Service, Greenfield has had 56.6 inches of rainfall so far in 2023.

Sarah Davenport, owner of Davenports’ Service Station at 269 Mohawk Trail in Shelburne, said business has been solid, affected more by rainy weekends than by the summer’s precipitation.

“Overall it’s been good. We count on locals to keep us alive,” she said, adding that the station has been busy on sunny days. Like Neal, she said customers have commented on this season’s lackluster foliage, “just that it’s dull and disappointing.”

But, Davenport said, New England weather is tricky. Sometimes people anticipate breathtaking leaves and are left wanting more, though other times they brace for poor foliage but are pleasantly surprised. Davenport also mentioned Thanksgiving weekend is always good for business and she has terrific snow tire clientele.

Kristie Faufaw, who co-owns Ryan and Casey Liquors in Greenfield and Cold River Package & Market in Charlemont, echoed Davenport’s comments that soggy Saturdays and Sundays have been more of a deterrence for customers than anything that may have happened over the summer.

“I think it’s more the weather and less than the trees,” she said.

Faufaw said most tourists make plans well in advance and look forward to them. She said they tend to go on their traditional trips to picturesque areas and visit their favorite spots, regardless of the leaves’ vibrancy.

“The people and places on the [Mohawk] Trail are just as important at the foliage, I think,” Faufaw said.

She said business hasn’t waned at all, though some customers have mentioned the mediocre foliage. One person commented that they missed seeing a bounty of red.

“‘It was a quick foliage,’ is what, on Sunday, somebody had said,” Faufaw recounted.

Joanne Soroka, who sits on the committee that oversees Shelburne Falls’ popular Bridge of Flowers, said the tourist attraction has had fewer visitors on rainy days. There have also been fewer garden clubs and tour buses stopping this year, she said.

“We still had visitors from far and wide, so I imagine if the plans were made, people came, but the local people, the New England area folks, were not here in the same numbers as before, including the COVID rebound,” Soroka wrote in an email, adding that the rain was nevertheless good for the plants.

Brenda Cope, who owns LillyBelle Antiques at 19 East Main St. in Orange, said tourists make up a chunk of her customer base, but they are generally not “leaf-peepers” — people who travel to view fall foliage.

“Some years are better, when it is warm and the trees have great color,” she said. “But we’re not a hub for that.”

Cope, who started her business 31 years ago, said most out-of-towners visit the North Quabbin region for outdoor activities like hiking and hunting or to check out more affordable real estate.

“This year’s been good. We have a lot of people that come out to this area, more that they drive around and look at the rivers and things like that. They come from all over the state, and all over the country, and that’s been going on for decades,” she said. “I’m an antique store, so people come to me because of what I am, whether there are leaves or not.”

Nancy Sadoski, the sole proprietor of the Old Deerfield Country Store for the past 40 years, said business has not suffered for her, either.

“I think the tourist season has been very good this year. We’ve had people from many different countries,” she said. “I think when people make plans to come, they don’t change. They come anyway.”

Still, Sadoski said some customers have commented there isn’t as much color as they had hoped for and that she simply explains the effect the rain has had.

“And the colors are pretty late,” she mentioned. “The leaves on our trees are just starting to turn color.”

Tim Neumann, executive director of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, said that attendance at the 47th Old Deerfield Fall Arts and Crafts Festival held a month ago was down 50% from last year, due mostly to the threat of rain. He said the Eastern European Heritage Festival, an indoor-outdoor event a couple of weeks ago, welcomed the expected 600 guests.

“The general number of tourists in town, yes, is down, and I don’t have the exact percentage, but I’m sure it’s 40% or 50%, from not having analyzed it but just glanced at it. So there is a decrease,” Neumann said. “With the rain every weekend, though, it’s hard to blame that on the leaves and not on the rain.

“We had one tree on our property that was glorious, but the rest … the leaves fell off,” he added.

Jessye Deane, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and Regional Tourism Council, said information gathered from tourism giants like Yankee Candle, Berkshire East Mountain Resort and Historic Deerfield indicate the delayed foliage has not been a deterrent for out-of-towners. She said tourism brings about $83 million into the county’s economy each year.

“I think one of the benefits ... is that people feel that there’s always more to do here. While we are largely a day-trip market, we find that we have high number of return visitors,” Deane said. “There’s just so much to do in Franklin County, there really is. And I think we will continue to see visitations grow.”

She also mentioned a wealth of tourism information is available at moretofranklincounty.com.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.