Editorial: Monday mix on Easthampton boom; Hatfield history; South Deerfield declutters

  • Mitchell Gohn, one of the four co-owners of Kisara Asian Bistro, prepares sushi for the lunch hour at the new Japanese and Korean restaurant on Cottage Street in Easthampton on Sept. 20. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Monday, October 02, 2017

The revitalization of Easthampton’s economy, which began with renovated buildings in the mill district, continues throughout downtown.

During the past six months, at least a half dozen new businesses have opened on Cottage and Union streets, each catering to a specialized niche. They are a Roman-style butcher shop, Japanese and Korean restaurant, custom design clothing store, smoke shop, custom flower and plant shop, and a tattoo parlor.

“They’re bringing something different to the our community,” says Mayor Karen Cadieux.

“Easthampton has a unique character and flavor, and people are drawn to it,” says Moe Belliveau, who for the past three years has been executive director of the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce.

One of the new businesses is the Kisara Asian Bistro at 88 Cottage St., which adds to the Asian flavor in the city. It is owned by Mitchell Gohn, Louis Ryu, Trang Le and Kingdom Wah who have years of experience working in sushi and Asian restaurants.

Gohn and head chef Ryu had worked at a restaurant in South Hadley, where they noticed many of the customers were from Easthampton. That helped them decide where to open their bistro in space that formerly housed the Manhan Cafe.

Gohn says the co-owners were surprised by the rush of business since the restaurant opened in September and need more employees. But they’ve been so busy, “We’ve had no time to put a hiring sign out,” he says.

That’s a good sign for Easthampton, which has made the post-mill industry transition to a vibrant community that is now home to a healthy mix of small retail businesses, restaurants and breweries, the arts and other cultural attractions.

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Records preserved from the former Porter & McLeod Machine Shop in Hatfield, dating back to the 1880s, open a fascinating window on industry in the Connecticut River Valley.

The Hatfield Historical Museum secured a scholar-in-residence grant from the nonprofit Mass Humanities in Northampton and brought on Robert Forrant, a University of Massachusetts Lowell professor who is an expert on the history of industry and labor in the state.

Forrant has spent the last four months examining 38,217 pages of payrolls, machine orders and correspondence with employees, which reveal much of the company’s history. The high-quality lathes produced there were sold to customers in 30 states, Canada, Europe and Canada. Though Porter & McLeod remained relatively small — employing between 30 and 60 people — it had a major impact on the Valley.

“It’s a great example of how manufacturing pushed everything else,” Forrant says. “They employed people in Hatfield, bought materials in Holyoke, bought their record-keeping books from a place in Springfield, and they used Northampton Savings Bank. They were a stimulant and a small economic engine for the Valley.”

The Hatfield Historical Museum, at 39 Main St., will open its Porter & McLeod exhibit to the public in May. It surely will provide a valuable history lesson.

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The village of South Deerfield has unveiled its own version of decluttering, municipal style, with results that may be of interest to other towns.

Sugarloaf Street resident Jane Trigere enlisted the help of other residents who value their town common to form an ad-hoc committee. One of the members was a student from the Conway School of Landscape Design, Emily Cohen, who documented things like traffic patterns, parking, plants and trees, water runoff and walkways.

She found design elements that were not cohesive. Over time, as the village evolved, walkways once leading to long-gone buildings came to lead nowhere. Meanwhile, items were added without any being removed.

The committee decided to remove parking signs, informational notices, an off-kilter concrete post — small subtractions that made a big visual difference.

“Design by elimination is easy,” Trigere noted. It’s also comparatively inexpensive.

“It’s a good first step,” said Trigere.

It’s a step that residents of any town might find both fun and enlightening.