Easthampton’s old factories house businesses focused on family fun

  • Kathy Wicks of Florence, left, orders a rhubarb apple with maple pop from staff Tali Sureck of Florence April 14, 2018 at Crooked Stick Pops in Eastworks. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Jasper Butler-Kurth, 12, of Easthampton, tries out a typewriter at the Attack Bear Press booth April 14, 2018 featured as part of Easthampton Bookfest at Eastworks. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Assorted ice pops at Crooked Stick Pops, one of several family-friendly businesses in the Eastworks building GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Alexandra Woolner of Attack Bear Press, right, assists Jackie Langdon of Easthampton in using a typewriter during Easthampton Bookfest at Eastworks recently. Cale Moore of Easthampton looks on. Bookfest is one of the family-oriented events that take place in the building’s public spaces. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Yoshi Sanders, 16, of Northampton, left, and Ann Biddle enjoy Crooked Stick Pops April 14, 2018 at the business located in Eastworks. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Alexandra Woolner of Attack Bear Press, left, offers typewriter guidance to Jackie Langdon of Easthampton April 14, 2018 during Easthampton Bookfest at Eastworks. Cale Moore of Easthampton looks on, at back. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The exterior of Eastworks is shown April 15, 2018 in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Daniel Robison, 4, of Amherst plays with the bean bag toss, one of the activities at the Mill 180 indoor park in Easthampton’s mill district. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The exterior of Mill 180 Park is shown April 15, 2018 in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Noah Marchetti, 2, of Pittsfield, center, plays with foam shapes at Mill 180 Park. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • 8-year-olds Noah Lehane, left, and Nolan Craven, right, compete in a friendly match at Zing! Table Tennis in the Eastworks building in Easthampton, April 19, 2018. DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE/ANDY CASTILLO

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    Advocate staff members Peter Vancini, left, and Jennifer Levesque, look for clues during the "live-action board game" at Puzzled Escape Games in the Eastworks building in Easthampton. Players have one hour to look for clues and solve different puzzles in order to escape from a themed room.

  • ">

    Kristin Palpini, left, and Peter Vancini look for clues during the "live-action board game" at Puzzled Escape Games in the Eastworks building in Easthampton. Players have one hour to look for clues and solve different puzzles in order to escape from a themed room.

Published: 4/24/2018 6:48:51 PM

One recent Wednesday morning, through the glass doors of Mill 180 Park in Easthampton, the sound of children’s laughter floats over artificial grass and past real plants growing under full-spectrum lights. It’s school vacation week, and the indoor urban park is particularly busy today.

A few parents play beanbag toss with their children. Others slide massive chess pieces across correspondingly large game boards. On a low grassy plateau, brothers Henry, 4, and 6-year-old Ben Zaborowski build a fort from large foam blocks as their mother, Meg Zaborowski of Agawam, watches.

“It’s great. Fun. Especially with the weather we’ve been having,” Zaborowski says.

This is the second time she and her kids have been here, but around them are dozens of regulars — like Henry Gallegos, who brings his 6-month-old daughter, Ava, to the park at least once a week. They make up “the morning crowd,” according to Lystra Blake, who co-owns the park and its accompanying indoor restaurant, Community Food Engine, with husband, Michael Sundel.

“Our intention has always been to provide a space for all members of the community,” she says, sitting at a picnic table next to a hydroponic growing tower overflowing with lush bunches of herbs, as the children play.

Since the park opened in the Mill 180 building in 2016, it’s become a hotspot for parents and children, adding to a growing number of businesses with a family-friendly focus throughout Pleasant Street’s mill district — converted factories, which beside Mill 180, includes the Paragon Arts and Industry Building, Keystone Mill and Eastworks. Zing! Table Tennis in Keystone Mill and Puzzled Escape Games, Crooked Stick Pops and Prodigy Minigolf and Gameroom in Eastworks all opened roughly around the same time.

 “It’s been an explosion of things going on,” said Henry Wheaton, co-owner SHOW Circus space in the Paragon Arts & Industry Building, noting parents and children often take the circus skills classes he offers together at the center. He opened the business with Christopher Oakley in 2009.

In addition to Show Circus, Yoga Eastworks — which holds kid-friendly yoga classes — Pioneer Valley Ballet, and Riffs Joint, have catered to families for years.

While there are many service organizations in the mill district, like the Registry of Motor Vehicles and myriad other businesses, Julie Tuman, owner of Crooked Stick Pops in Eastworks estimates that her average customer, “90 percent of the time, is under 10.”

“A lot of popsicle eaters bring me artwork,” she said, gesturing to a wall behind the counter quickly filling up with children’s drawings. “We get a lot of repeats, and crossovers.”

Mutual interests

Synergy among businesses in the mills helps everyone, Tuman noted. Restaurant goers cross the hallway to Crooked Stick Pops after dining at Riffs Join and parents bribe their children with a pop after a haircut at the nearby Lift salon, she says. Children wander over in groups from event spaces throughout the building where activities often take place.

 Marjory Zaik, marketing and social media manager at Eastworks, said family-friendly events include the occasional yo-yo “throwdowns” hosted by YoYoExpert, which is a toy and game manufacturer headquartered in Eastworks. Most recently, Easthampton City Arts held its annual Bookfest in the building.

“I see Pleasant Street as becoming a regional playground for families,” said Noel Abbott, owner of Zing! Table tennis, which is in the Keystone Mill building, a short walk from Eastworks.

Inside the table tennis center’s expansive 3,800-square-foot space, at a table near the back wall, 8-year-olds Noah Lehane and Nolan Craven were competing in a friendly match on a recent afternoon. Lehane’s mother, Jennifer Gunderson of Easthampton, said they come a few times each month to play and described Zing! as “a great addition to the mills.”

About one-third of Abbott’s patrons are children or young adults, he says, and the number is growing as more people find out about it. Table tennis is a game that people of all ages can play because “it’s very simple,” he said. “Everyone relates to it.”

Puzzled Escape Games, on the first floor of Eastworks, also caters to a range of ages. The activities pose mental challenges in the form of brain-teasers and board games. The business features three escape rooms for both young and old.

“There’s something for everyone,” said Lise Lawrence, who opened Puzzled in 2016 with her brother, Thomas Dahl. “My brother and I would always play Risk, and we were really competitive. We wanted something that would challenge the mind.”

The newest room, “The Lost Wand,” is designed for children and includes a live actor to help. The other two rooms, which have a 25 percent escape percentage, are for adults and teenagers. Larger groups and families have the best chance at completing the challenges through collaboration, Lawrence added.

Near the front office there’s an area to play board games.

A place to be cool

Jeff Bujak, owner of Prodigy Minigolf and Gameroom Eastworks wanted to create a go-to space for kids. “I really wanted to attract nerds, smart kids, as a place they can come to after school and be cool,” he said, as he sat in his place in the basement of Eastworks. “The word is getting out.”

Long tables illuminated by low-hanging lights stretch beside the mini golf course. Board games weighed down shelves behind the register, and there is a foosball table in one corner.

At the front desk, Alex Titton, 16, and his father, Justin Titton, drawn to the space by its video games, surveyed a row of televisions hooked up to classic game consoles. “I played Attari, Genesis, XBox, and Playstation one and two. Genesis was the big one for me,” said Justin Titton. “I’ve played them all,” added Alex.

That family togetherness is what Bujak likes to see. He says he enjoyed playing board games like Scrabble and Scattergories with his family when he was growing up.

“My dad and my mom both played games. They loved games, we always had video game consoles,” he said. “This is very reminiscent of my own childhood.”

He noted that there aren’t many activities in the area like Prodigy Minigolf and Gameroom that are specifically for adults and teenagers to do together. And, he says, it is a good way to keep the generations connected at an age when children begin to distance themselves from their parents.

“You can be really communal around games,” he said. “This could be a really good place to bond with your older children.”

Bujak paused and leaned back in his chair. “This is just the place to be right now.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

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