Monday Shorts: Pandemic derails re-use of Wilson’s

  • Groundbreaking ceremony at the new location of Community Health Center of Franklin County at the former Aubuchon Plaza on New Athol Road in Orange Thursday morning. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 8/31/2020 6:30:15 AM

Here are some brief thoughts on recent happenings in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.

Pandemic derails re-use of Wilson’s

The closing of Wilson’s Department Store on Main Street hit the county like a body blow last fall, but by January, things were looking up with the announced expansion of Franklin Community Co-op’s Green Fields Market into this prime downtown space. Shoppers envisioned a bigger bakery, a bigger deli with expanded eat-in seating, and more of the organic and bulk-sale foods the co-op is famous for.

Those hopes were dashed with last week’s announcement that the co-op had let its letter of intent to move into the former Wilson’s space expire. As a result of the coronavirus restrictions, “sales have been unpredictable,” Outreach and Communications Manager Sarah Kanabay said, “making it challenging to offer stable financial projections, both now and in the future.” Admittedly, you can’t borrow money to expand and expect to pay it back under those conditions.

Expansion is still in their future, according to Kanabay, who said at this time, the co-op is “exploring different options” and still want to keep the co-op in downtown Greenfield. We suspect the future of this anchor space has moved to the front burner in City Hall. Time to revisit an earlier editorial titled, “There must be 50 ways to re-use Wilson’s”?

Expansion plans move ahead for CHC

Meanwhile, in Orange, the nonprofit Community Health Center of Franklin County held a ceremonial groundbreaking for its new, larger location at 119 New Athol Road, known as the Aubuchon Plaza.

Our local legislative team of State Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland and Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, were on hand to wield a shovelful of hope. They were joined by a representative of Greenfield Savings Bank, which is loaning about $3.2 million to the FCCHC to purchase and renovate the property.

When it opens in February, the health center will more than double in size. The number of medical providers will increase from 3-1/2 to 5-1/2 and the number of dentists will grow from 2-1/2 to 4-1/2. Dr. Allison van der Velden, the health center’s new CEO, said, “We just want to give folks the tools that they need (to improve the quality of their life) and the Community Health Center is a partner in that for the entire community.” Whipps called the expansion plans a “ray of sunshine.”

This is good news for patients, who can continue to receive expert care from dedicated providers.

Sunderland Women’s Club donates masks

Readers with long memories will recall how many towns boasted of a women’s club that brought together members seeking friendship and purpose while improving their communities and themselves. While many such clubs became an anachronism in our changing society, one of the survivors is the Sunderland Women’s Club, established in 1894 and still serving its community. Co-President Barbara Sabol said, “Although the club is largely for the social and intellectual benefit of its members, there’s also a community service element. We keep our ears open for the need.”

They found such a need as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with its requirement for mask-wearing. “It’s for the kids,” explained Sunderland Women’s Club member Debby Childs, who coordinated a mask-making project to benefit Sunderland Elementary School students. The club’s 70 members responded to Childs’ email appeal by sewing masks, donating materials and money that yielded 336 fabric masks and 145 disposable masks that will be distributed to students on their first day of in-person instruction in mid-September. Sabol said, “They will absolutely be looking sharp.”

Kudos to a women’s club that has sustained its mission for more than a century.

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