Florence character changing? Block sales bring dispensary, rental upgrades

  • Carol Miller talks about leaving her apartment on Maple Street in Florence after the building sold and her rent increased. July 21, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carol Miller, a 26-year resident, talks about leaving her apartment in the Parsons Block on Maple Street in Florence after the building was sold and her rent increased. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carol Miller talks about leaving her apartment on Maple Street in Florence after the building sold and her rent increased. July 21, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Intersection of North Main and North Maple in Florence, looking at the Parsons Block building that was recently sold. July 26, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kurt Brazeau, owner of MurDuff’s Jewelry, talks about the changes in Florence Center with the selling of the Parsons Block and Goodwin Block buildings. July 26, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cyclist Brett Constantine worries about the loss of community gathering places if longtime tenants and buisnesses are forced out of Florence Center by higher rents. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brett Constantine talks about the changes in Florence Center with the selling of the Parsons Block and Goodwin Block buildings. July 26, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Intersection of North Main and North Maple in Florence, looking at the Parsons Block building that has recently sold. July 26, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leslie Chalmers and Michael Goyda talk about the selling of the Parsons and Goodwin Block buildings in Florence and the changes that will bring. The two were standing at the doorway to the Pizza Factory where a cannabis shop is proposed to take its place. “Northampton has sold its soul. It’s no longer the progressive city it was,” said Chalmers when talking about the disappointment she felt in possibly losing the Pizza Factory. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leslie Chalmers and Michael Goyda talk about the sale of the Parsons and Goodwin block buildings in Florence and the changes that will bring. The two were standing at the doorway to the Pizza Factory, where a cannabis shop is proposed to take its place. “Northampton has sold its soul. It’s no longer the progressive city it was,” Chalmers said of the disappointment she felt in possibly losing the Pizza Factory. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2022 7:05:19 AM
Modified: 7/30/2022 7:03:11 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Changes are in store for Florence Center, including the possible addition of a marijuana dispensary, after buyers scooped up iconic properties at the intersection of Main and Maple streets in separate transactions.

The Goodwin Block at 125 Main St. — home to Pizza Factory, Full Circle Bike Shop, a tax preparation service, a post office and more — sold to Tigre Opportunity Fund LLC in March, and now a father-son team of cannabis entrepreneurs have announced that, if all goes according to plan, the pizza spot will become a dispensary.

“We’re planning on either relocating or closing for good by the end of December,” said Pizza Factory manager Neslihan Ibic, whose parents own the restaurant. “We were kind of planning on staying there, but we also understand why (the new landlord) wanted to rent it to someone else” and there are “no hard feelings” between the two parties.

Ibic said it is “upsetting that we are closing,” and taht the family treasures the “strong relationships” they have built with customers over their 15 years of ownership.

“Many of them grew up on the pizza and they bring their families now,” Ibic said.

Meanwhile, Blue Mountain Properties LLC has purchased the Parsons Block across the road at 76-96 Maple St., home of Bird’s Store and Herlihy’s clothing store, as well as other businesses and a half-dozen apartments. At least one residential tenant, Carol Miller, received a letter in June informing her that her rent would rise from $550 per month — the same amount she has paid for decades — to $1,200 effective Aug. 1 as the new owners prepare to make overdue repairs and renovations.

According to records at the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds, the Timothy E. Shea Trust was the owner of both buildings; the trust, benefiting the longtime landlord’s children since his death in 2018, sold the Goodwin Block for $810,000 and the Parsons Block in June for $1.725 million.

Goodwin Block

Tigre Opportunity Fund, the new Goodwin Block owner, is run by Philip Lipman, a Berkshire County resident who said he primarily renovates old apartment buildings, and that the LLC is “far from a big, giant conglomerate.” He said he is working to bring each unit “up to code and make them really safe and beautiful.”

“I get a lot of work done up front and I do a lot of work that other landlords don’t do,” he said. “I’ll treat it with the historical reverence it deserves. … I’m not going to turn it into a big, nasty strip mall.”

Lipman said he rejected a lighting design that would have made the building “look like a Blockbuster video or a Starbucks.”

The post office, which is getting replacements for its outdated air conditioners, has paid the same rent since 1985.

“It’s clear what the market rent is, and I’m charging dramatically less than that to the existing tenants,” he said.

To date, the only business that is planning to leave, to his knowledge, is Pizza Factory.

Euphorium LLC will hold a community meeting about its dispensary proposal on Monday, Aug. 15, at 6:30 p.m. in the parking lot behind Goodwin Block. The meeting is a required step in the state’s licensing process and comes about a year before a potential opening. Such meetings have to occur before the city can sign a host community agreement with the new business.

Marco Aranzullo and his father, Richard Aranzullo, both lifelong residents of Connecticut, “are a small business duo hoping to bring their mixed skills of fine cigar shops and security services into the regulated cannabis industry” in Massachusetts, a public meeting notice reads. “They look forward to providing a more ma and pa type alternative to the smaller Florence community which will stand out from the plethora of corporate shops in Northampton.”

A petition on Change.org opposes Euphorium, citing the proximity of several programs for people struggling with substance abuse and the fact that the corner “garners much adolescent walking traffic.”

Rick Haggerty, an elementary school special education teacher and a 26-year homeowner in Florence, started the petition, saying there are already 12 dispensaries in the city and “enough is enough.”

“It is near a mental health residence, and it is close to daily recovery meetings at the Florence Community Center. Opening a dispensary there is insensitive to children, families, and those with substance abuse issues,” the petition reads. “In terms of cannabis access, if those in the Berkshire Hilltowns need access to a dispensary, the site should be located there, or those individuals can utilize the new cannabis delivery services.”

Signatories of the petition also cited a possible strain on parking in the area and a perceived saturation of the cannabis market in Northampton.

Cannabis business consultant Ezra Parzybok, a 20-year Florence resident, is working with the Aranzullos on their retail operation. He said he is sympathetic to neighbors’ concerns, but there are 17 package stores and more than 70 liquor licenses for on-site consumption in Northampton, and opponents of marijuana dispensaries often have a “double standard” about alcohol.

“Kids can sit at the table with their parents while they drink an unregulated amount of alcohol and then drive them home,” Parzybok said. “We could open a boutique wine store. Would a Change.org petition circulate for the same reasons?”

He said “democratically chosen” local and state regulations allow the shop to open by right at the proposed location, which is much farther from a school than the required 500 feet. Dispensaries are subject to marketing and advertising restrictions as well, and cannot allow the products or certain words including “marijuana” to be visible from the street.

“For the sake of keeping the opening of this business quiet and less controversial, I would love to be off the beaten path,” Parzybok said, but hiding substances increases shame for users, and “I am proud of cannabis as a plant, I am proud of cannabis culture, and I am proud of the regulators” who set up the retail sale framework.

Haggerty said that “cannabis, like alcohol and caffeine, are personal choices. I know cannabis has medicinal uses and even caffeine is known to reduce migraines and attention issues. Contrarily, they can also be a source of addiction. Those who fall in the addiction category must be supported and respected, as those who gain medical benefits.”

The community meeting on Aug. 15 is accessible via Zoom at bit.ly/3S9QoSO. Parzybok said a previously scheduled Aug. 1 meeting in the JJ’s Tavern banquet room was canceled.

Leslie Chalmers, a 20-year customer of Pizza Factory, talked to a reporter as she walked her dog in Florence Center with her friend Michael Goyda. She said she is “ashamed” of the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries in the city.

“The pot shop bubble is ridiculous,” Chalmers said. “It’s short-term thinking. It’s going to burst.”

“We’re losing our small-town effect,” Goyda said.

Many business owners in the area declined to comment for this article and, on Tuesday afternoon, several other businesses were not open.

“It’s nice that they’re doing renovations. They do need updating,” MurDuff’s Jewelry owner Kurt Brazeau said of the nearby Goodwin and Parsons blocks. “It’s sad that the rent went up so much all at once.”

Brett Constantine was riding his bike through the area when he stopped in to Full Circle Bike Shop. He said he also owns properties and “there’s nothing wrong with charging market rate,” but he worries about the loss of community gathering places if residential tenants and longstanding businesses leave.

“There are no rich businesses around here,” Constantine said.

Parsons Block

Jordan Healy, a representative of Parsons Block’s new property manager, Patriot Property Management Group, said business and residential rents will rise from the levels set by Shea, and needed repairs and renovations will be made.

“There are plans to renovate the building and get all the apartments up to market rate. There’s a lot of vacancies currently and we’re hoping to fill those,” Healy said, adding, “There’s a need for beautification efforts.”

Blue Mountain Properties and Patriot Property Management Group are based in West Springfield.

Carol Miller, 75, lived in a second-floor apartment from 1996 until this week, when she moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, due to the rent hike. Miller’s all-inclusive rent was $550 and, even though the apartment does not have many amenities and she did some maintenance work and painting herself over the years, she had every intention to stay.

“My rent was always reasonable. He never asked for security, he never asked for first or last (month’s rent),” Miller said, acknowledging that Shea could have justified charging more when he was the landlord. “My church is down the street. Everything I needed was right here within walking distance. My doctors, food.”

Miller said she loved watching parades and other community events from her window overlooking Florence Center. A retired cook who worked for 18 years at Northampton Brewery, Miller said she lived in the Pioneer Valley for 46 years after serving in the Peace Corps and was a “frequent flyer” at Lilly Library.

“I feel safe. People are friendly. … I don’t drive, so this is really just perfect for me,” she said last week as she packed boxes, awaiting the arrival of her brother-in-law from Arizona. He was scheduled to fly into Hartford, rent a moving van, pick up Miller and bring her to live with family in the Great Lakes State.

“I got together with my family and they said, ‘Come on home,’” Miller said. “That’s a lot of love.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.
Sign up for our free email updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Headlines
Daily Hampshire Gazette Contests & Promotions
Daily Hampshire Gazette Evening Top Reads
Daily Hampshire Gazette Breaking News
Daily Hampshire Gazette Obits
Daily Hampshire Gazette Sports
Daily Hampshire Gazette PM Updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Weekly Top Stories
Daily Hampshire Gazette Valley Advocate

Jobs



Support Local Journalism


Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy