Northampton working to fill downtown vacancies

  • UMass students Jackie Bruno, and Jon Bradley walk by the former home of Berkshire Yogurt, Wednesday, where Ethan and Ashley Vandermark, who own Nourish Juice Bar in Thornes Marketplace, plan to open up a similar juice bar and health food cafe next month, at 10 Bridge St. in Northampton. DAN LITTLE

  • The former home of Competition Motors, 8 Pearl St. in Northampton, is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • The former 47 Center St. Masonic temple is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • 55 Center St. is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • The former First Baptist Church at 298 Main St. is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • The former Marinello School of Beauty at 58 Pleasant St. in Northampton is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • The former Grub sandwich shop at 88 Pleasant St. is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • The former Subway at 193 Main St. in Northampton will soon be home to Pita Pockets. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • The former Brake King at 236 Pleasant St. in Northampton is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • 24 Center St. in Northampton is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • Happy Valley is moving to the former Hempest Location at 177 Main St. in Northampton. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • CHRIS LINDAHLThe owner of the former Kathy’s Diner at 6 Strong Ave. in Northampton is renovating the vacant structure.

  • 50 Main St. in Northampton has been vacant since Spoleto left the space in 2012 while Hinge left 48 Main St. in Nov. 2015.

  • Ethan and Ashley Vandermark, who own Nourish Juice Bar in Thornes Marketplace, plan to open up a similar juice bar and health food cafe next month at the former home of Berkshire Yogurt at 10 Bridge St. in Northampton.

  • Ethan and Ashley Vandermark, who own Nourish Juice Bar in Thornes Marketplace, plan to open up a similar juice bar and health food cafe next month at the former home of Berkshire Yogurt at 10 Bridge St. in Northampton.

  • 50 Main St. in Northampton has been vacant since Spoleto left the space in 2012 while Hinge left 48 Main St. in Nov. 2015.

  • The space at 48 Main St. in Northampton has been vacant since Hinge closed down in November 2015. DAN LITTLE

  • 50 Main St. in Northampton has been vacant since Spoleto left the space in 2012.

  • 50 Main St. in Northampton has been vacant since Spoleto left the space in 2012 while Hinge left 48 Main St. in Nov. 2015.

  • 50 Main St. in Northampton has been vacant since Spoleto left the space in 2012 while Hinge left 48 Main St. in Nov. 2015.

  • 28 Pleasant St. in Northampton is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • Alice McKusick, an employee at Nourish, pours a Prana Smoothie in to a cup for a customer. CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alice McKusick, an employee at Nourish, peels fruit while waiting for the next customer order. CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rick Martel makes a drink for a customer at Nourish Juice Bar. CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rick Martel, the owner of Nourish, pours a juice drink called a Detoxinator in to a cup for a customer. CAROL LOLLIS

  • 26 Strong Ave.. in Northampton is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • 21 Center St. in Northampton is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • 30 Strong Ave. in Northampton is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • The former Western Village Ski and Sports at 32 Main St. has been rented, according to owner Michael Banas. CHRIS LINDAHL

  • The former location of Hinge at 48 Main St. in Northampton is vacant. CHRIS LINDAHL

@cmlindahl
Published: 4/27/2016 9:38:41 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As empty downtown storefronts have led many to question the health of the city’s economy, property owners and real estate agents say Northampton’s vibrancy isn’t going anywhere, with several prominent vacancies set to be filled in the coming weeks.

But the future of many of the 21 currently empty storefronts or buildings downtown remains to be seen, even as “open” signs are set to hang on at least six of them in the coming weeks.

Among the new openings is a venture by Ethan and Ashley Vandermark, owners of Nourish Juice Bar in Thornes Marketplace. The couple plan to open a similar establishment at the former home of Berkshire Yogurt at 10 Bridge St. as soon as next month.

“It’s going to be a wellness cafe and juice bar — the idea is it’s a healthy cafe,” Ethan Vandermark said Wednesday.

Vandermark said he and his wife aim to capitalize on the consistent growth they’ve found in Thornes by opening a second location that offers a lunch menu and room to sit down. He said he’s optimistic about the move, though he recognizes it comes with some risk.

“The jump from a 76-square-foot to a 1,400-square-foot location involves some chance,” he said. “A bigger space, more to think about — and, of course, a higher rent.”

After crunching numbers and running calculations, Vandermark says he believes the business will be able to thrive in a bigger space, partly due to sales from the food menu. The couple were able to expand their business after securing a loan, he said.

“In order to make it in that space, we have to offer more,” Vandermark said. “We have to diversify.”

The Vandermarks’ expansion is just the latest example of the Thornes “incubator” effect, which real estate agent Patrick M. Goggins said is a leading factor in the Northampton economy’s health.

“The incubator concept has played a large role in the success of downtown and the steadiness of downtown, despite the fact that we’re in a bit of a funky period here,” said Goggins, who owns Goggins Real Estate.

Another factor is lateral moves — businesses moving from one spot to another, perhaps to a larger space, he said.

That’s what’s happening with Happy Valley. The gift shop is moving from its current 229 Main St. location to 177 Main St., which has been vacant since the Hempest moved to Conz Street earlier this year.

Most of Main Street’s six other vacancies are set to be filled in the comings weeks.

An antiques dealer based in the Boston area is moving into the former longtime home of the Mercantile at 108 Main St. within six weeks, Goggins said.

Meantime, Pita Pockets of Amherst plans to open a second location at the former Subway space at 193 Main St.

And the former 32 Main St. home of Western Village Ski and Sports has been rented, according to building owner Michael Banas.

“I don’t have a timeline yet,” Banas said. “Pretty soon — it’s moving along.”

But just a few doors down lies what is likely Northampton’s most notorious vacancy — the former Spoleto space at 50 Main St.

The large storefront has been empty since the restaurant moved to Bridge Street in 2012. Its owner, Eric Suher, could not be reached for comment.

Suher also owns the former First Baptist Church at 298 Main St., which is vacant.

The space that housed Hinge until it closed in November 2015 also lies empty. The owner of that building, Tushar Mody, could not be reached for comment.

Transitional period

Observers of Northampton’s recent mixed success in filling vacancies say the city is in a transitional economic period.

“There isn’t anything wrong with downtown Northampton,” said Gary Perman, owner of the former Kathy’s Diner. “It’s just an adjustment.

“There are some larger empty spaces. I think rents play a part in that — (buildings) are expensive to purchase and renovate, so rents have to be based on that,” he added.

He’s currently renovating the diner at 6 Strong Ave., which includes replacing a rotten wall that connects the diner car to an attached structure and installing a new roof. He said he’s seen interest from prospective tenants, but no bites.

Perman said he hopes to charge between $4,000 and $5,000 per month for the diner.

Perman is also looking to sell the retail condominium he owns at 30 Strong Ave. for $325,000. The structure formerly housed the Just B dress shop until it moved out about a year ago and was the recent home of a convenience store, which closed earlier this year due to the owner’s health problems, he said.

Stephen F. Ferrarone, owner of 18, 22 and 26 Strong Ave., is experiencing a lot of movement in his properties.

Fitness Together, currently at 18 Strong Ave., has leased the unit next door to expand its gym area.

And with 26 Strong Ave., “We’re in sort of a delicate negotiation stage,” Ferrarone said. “We’re looking at a complementary business for the Fitness Together people.”

Ferrarone said he has modified his strategy in the last decade by choosing to rent to service-based businesses rather than retail establishments.

Around the time of the economic downturn in 2007, Ferrarone said he observed Internet sales begin to seriously encroach on brick-and-mortar retail. He said downtown as a whole reflects the impact of Amazon and other online-only retailers, which frequently undercut the prices of physical stores.

“It’s getting to be almost exclusively services downtown — look at the number of restaurants,” Ferrarone said.

Richard M. Madowitz, owner of Thornes, said he recognizes the challenges of the retail market, though he sees Northampton as capable of weathering the Internet competition storm.

“Northampton’s a beneficiary of people wanting to shop local,” he said. “Main Street retail is exceptionally fragile and if everybody chooses to shop online … there aren’t going to be any retail storefronts in Northampton — I think people recognize that.”

And Madowitz has the numbers to prove that local works.

During the first quarter of 2016, Thornes was at 100 percent retail leasing capacity — a first for the shopping center.

“I don’t think Thornes has ever been fully leased, at least in the last four decades,” Madowitz said.

Madowitz credits the success found by Thornes retailers and the incubator effect on the center’s “robust” advertising program that provides limelight for startup businesses on radio and TV. “Our marketing budget is now threefold what it was six or seven years ago,” he said.

Other vacancies

The Gazette’s count of 21 downtown storefronts and buildings not currently open for business is based on boundaries set by the city for its March economic indicators report. The boundaries are the Smith College gates to the west, the intersection of Market and Hawley streets to the east, the entirety of Center Street and the intersection of King Street and Allen Place to the north and the intersection of Pleasant and Holyoke streets to the south.

On Pleasant Street, 58 Pleasant St. has been empty since the Maranello School of Beauty left in December 2015, while the nearby former Grub sandwich shop at 88 Pleasant St. has been vacant since 2013. Both are owned by Suher.

Suher also owns the former Competition Motors site at 8 Pearl St., which is vacant.

The “for sale” sign that hung at 28 Pleasant St. was taken down this week, suggesting the retail space may soon be filled. The building’s owner, Jeffrey Dwyer, could not be reached for comment.

The owners of the former Brake King location at 236 Pleasant St. have not yet found a tenant or buyer.

Real estate agent and building co-owner Kevin Jennings said he’s seen interest from both prospective buyers and renters. He said he envisions the former auto shop being converted into office space or a service-based business such as a restaurant.

He said he sees commercial real estate in Northampton as a perennially strong market, especially given the city’s pedestrian-friendly layout and status as a magnet for college students.

“Every market has a little up and down,” he said.

Several properties lie vacant on Center Street, including the newly constructed 55 Center St. Goggins, the property’s real estate agent, said prospective tenants have shown interest in using the space for both retail and office space.

Others are owned by Suher. The front portion of 21 Center St., which used to house Table 9 restaurant is empty, though its lower level is the home of the Basement nightclub. The former Masonic Temple at 47 Center St. is also vacant, as is 24 Center St.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.




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