Businesses at Amherst Carriage Shops worry about owner’s desire to sell complex for redevelopment

Last modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014
AMHERST — A steady growth in clientele at Fikriye King’s tailoring business at the Amherst Carriage Shops over the past eight years has allowed her to buy her storefront.

Just last year, King marked the success of her enterprise by purchasing the space she had previously rented at 233 North Pleasant St., and just four months ago the native of Turkey bought the adjacent unit that would allow her to expand.

But the possibility that the 52-year-old complex housing more than a dozen shops and offices, as well as the Hampshire Mosque, could be sold, razed and redeveloped is causing angst for King and others who make their livelihoods at the downtown location.

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“I don’t want to sell,” King said. “I will lose my business and my job.”

Eliana Dabbous, who runs Eliana’s Barber Shop a few doors down from the tailoring shop, said it would be awful to leave the space she has rented for nearly three years. She senses the end is coming for the Carriage Shops.

“It’s very sad. I love it here,” Dabbous said.

Jerold Gates, who owns 60 percent of the commercial condominiums that make up the complex, said no deal is in place yet to sell to a developer. But he is being upfront with those who both own and rent units that developers are “pestering me.”

“If something does happen, I will let them know immediately,” Gates said.

Gates said he and the seven people who own units will decide on the property’s fate. “We act as one, we act as trustees,” Gates said.

He added that none of the tenants should be surprised as he has sold off some units and has begun marketing the property.

“They know the place is for sale and they know that I’ve been selling,” Gates said.

The most likely developers to buy the site would be Archipelago Investments LLC, whose partners, David Williams and Kyle Wilson, have already completed Boltwood Place on Boltwood Walk, which features upscale apartments on the upper four floors and the Scandihoovians store on the ground level. Archipelago also has permits to build the five-story Kendrick Place, a mixed-use building featuring student rentals and three stores at the corner of Triangle and East Pleasant streets, just a few hundred feet away from the Carriage Shops.

Housing needed

Tony Maroulis, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, said Amherst needs high-quality housing downtown, suitable for both young people and retirees, and that Archipelago would be an ideal company to provide it.

If Archipelago can come up with an arrangement, Maroulis said, he is confident that the project would be a boon for downtown.

“We’ve seen what they have done for boomers at Boltwood Place and for students at Kendrick Place,” Maroulis said.

The Amherst Carriage Shops building was originally constructed as a motel in 1962 by Gates, Everett Roberts and John Summerlin. Gates said the 40 rooms at the Amherst Carriage Inn were converted to a mix of retail shops, offices and living units after the University of Massachusetts Hotel opened. By the mid-1970s, some of the former hotel parking lot was filled in as two additional buildings were constructed along the street. These now house the Loose Goose Cafe and the law offices of Seewald, Jankowski and Spencer.

Gates said that major work needs to be done to the Carriage Shops building for it to remain usable into the future.

Tough to relocate

Both King and Dabbous said they believe that the existing buildings would be torn down to make way for the new development.

“It’s too bad. We’re just trying to make a living,” Dabbous said.

“Very important for Amherst is the small businesses,” King said.

King said the complex is a good place to be because it offers free parking, has a bus stop nearby and is within walking distance of both the UMass and Amherst College campuses. Other suitable sites will be difficult to find.

“Where are we going to go with the high rents in town?” asked Dabbous, who is originally from Lebanon. “How can we afford that?”

“We’re up in the air and don’t know what to do,” Dabbous said.

Keren Rhodes, who owns the Glazed Doughnut Shop with her husband, Nick, said they, too, are aware that changes might be coming.

“We have been hearing substantial rumors from other business owners in the complex that there’s a major development deal,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said while she is supportive of so-called infill development, she knows a development project will impact those who don’t have the resources to pick up and move.

“It’s a real shame that it will be done in a way that displaces a lot of businesses with no other options,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said she has begun exploring other downtown locations in case she is forced to move.

The retail stores at the Carriage Shops include The Creative Needle, Amherst Wines and Spirits, Computers & More, Amherst Music House and Kay Baker’s Antiques.

Besides the barbershop and tailoring shop, other services are Purele Threading and Waxing, Amherst Extension and Beauty Salon and Casimir Kocot Salon.

Offices at the plaza are Amherst Community Connections, Kestrel Land Trust, MassPIRG and Counterfeit Cow Productions.

There is also a music studio called Thorne’s Guitar and the house of worship, the Hampshire Mosque. Rounding out the units are six former motel rooms that are now residences.

The back side of the building, which faces the town’s historic West Cemetery, contains a mural depicting the town’s famous figures, including Emily Dickinson.

Maroulis said inexpensive rents in downtown are hard to find because Amherst lacks so-called incubator space.

“Places around that spot are quite affordable,” Maroulis said. “The town does have to think about the long-term entrepreneurial opportunities for businesses like this.”

Maroulis said the best bet for small businesses to relocate is the Pomeroy village center along West Street or the East Amherst village center along College Street, where rents tend to be cheaper.

Though her business could be affected, Rhodes said this is the exact kind of development downtown needs.

“I think it will be good for downtown to have more residential units,” Rhodes said.

Town Manager John Musante said this is an exciting time for the northern end of downtown, citing Kendrick Place.

“That’s one example of creative infill development,” Musante said.

Maroulis said if a project moves forward at the Carriage Shops, especially one with a housing component, it would meet the objectives of the master plan for denser development in the commercial district.

“I look at this as a true opportunity,“ Maroulis said. “But at the same time, some businesses will have to look for opportunities elsewhere.”