Getting down to business: Healey chats with merchants on swing through Northampton

  • Maura Healey, Democratic candidate for governor, gets interviewed by the press after a visit to India House on a tour of Northampton Thursday afternoon, Oct. 13,2022. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maura Healey, Democratic candidate for governor talks to Katie Rennie, owner of 25 Central, during a visit to Western Mass. Thursday afternoon, Oct. 13,2022. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maura Healey, Democratic candidate for governor, is interviewed by the press after a visit to India House on a tour of Northampton, Thursday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maura Healey, Democratic candidate for governor walks through Northampton with Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra during a visit to Western Mass. Thursday afternoon, Oct. 13,2022. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maura Healey, Democratic candidate for governor walks through Northampton with left Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra and right Jo Comerford, Mass State Senator, during a visit to Western Mass. Thursday afternoon, Oct. 13,2022. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra talks about business development in downtown Northampton with Maura Healey, democratic candidate for governor, during a visit to Western Mass. Thursday afternoon, Oct. 13,2022. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Attorney General Maura Healey, center, the Democratic candidate for governor, walks through Northampton with Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, left, and state Sen. Jo Comerford, right, among others during a visit to Hampshire and Franklin counties Thursday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2022 8:07:27 PM

NORTHAMPTON —  Several small business owners in Northampton got a rare chance to meet the front-runner to become the state’s next governor on Thursday, when Democrat Maura Healey stopped by their shops to hear what’s going well and what challenges they face. Oh, and the current attorney general also helped the cause of one business owner by buying a pair of shoes.    

Kicking off the tour at India House on State Street, Healey learned that the expansion of outdoor dining have given the restaurant the chance to continue serving the community. Family-owned and founded in 1984 by Omi and Alka Kanoujia, the restaurant is continuing to face challenges, though, especially in getting jobs filled, particularly kitchen help, son Amit Kanoujia said.

“There are a lot of other opportunities out there,” he said about landing workers, speaking directly to Healey, as the gubernatorial candidate began an hourlong walking tour of the business community led by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra.

“Outdoor seating really helps us all,” Kanoujia said, adding that support from city leaders and the Downtown Northampton Association has been essential, and the next governor needs to be aware of how the state can help out.

“A high tide is going to raise all of us,” he said.

Healey’s visit to the Northampton businesses was part of an afternoon of campaign events in which she also planned to stop at the University of Massachusetts, to meet with the women’s basketball team and tour the UMass Transportation Center, and have a meet-and-greet with the Amherst community at Mexcalito restaurant before capping her day with another meet-and-greet at the Orange Innovation Center.

The aspiring governor’s travels to western Massachusetts came on the heels of her first debate the previous evening with Republican candidate Geoff Diehl. Recent polls show Healey with a roughly 2-to-1 lead heading into the Nov. 8 election.

Shoe shopping

Joined by state Sen. Jo Comerford, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and members of the City Council, Healey applauded the work done in Northampton to maintain a vibrant business community and pledged that the cities and towns in the western part of the state would not be forgotten, noting that she kicked off her candidacy for attorney general in Northampton in 2013.

“Northampton has always been on the map,” Healey said. “It’s just a wonderful mix of arts and culture here.”

Healey said she wants to help small businesses, and acknowledged the difficulties they are confronting. “I understand the challenges that exist right now,” she said.

To show her commitment, Healey used the tour to find a pair of shoes at La Strada, a shop offering European footwear both from its Main Street location and online. “It’s a beautiful store,” Healey said.

If elected governor, Healey said she will promote small businesses, work to enhance transportation that includes east-west rail, and look to overcome the perception that the region’s distance from Boston means that it is not invested in or prioritized. She said representation on state boards and committees and in her administration would be critical. “I’ve always had a real fondness for western Massachusetts,” said Healey, a Boston resident.

Tax changes

Speaking to reporters, Healey endorsed Question 1, or the Fair Share Amendment, on the Nov. 8 ballot, which will give the state significant revenues and affect less than 1% of taxpayers. She also called for changes in the tax structure, such as child tax credits, and pushed for getting shovel ready projects underway, including developments in the area.

At 25 Central, where Healey noticed “amazing” earrings, owner Katie Rennie explained her decision to move out to Main Street from Thorne’s Marketplace.

“There’s so much more foot traffic just because of the Main Street frontage,” Rennie said.

At the Taste of Northampton in September, a one-day event in which Main Street was turned into a pedestrian mall, Sciarra explained that a regional economic development grant was used to partner with the Downtown Northampton Association. “A very remarkable, celebratory day,” Sciarra said.

Sciarra also explained other projects the city has undertaken to support getting people back to downtown, including setting up a performance stage on Masonic Street that brought activity to that part of the business center, while continuing the Summer on Strong at the other end of downtown.

Jo Smith, who opened her art gallery on Market Street after returning from Houston, said it has been her dream to run a store in downtown Northampton.

“This is beautiful, really beautiful,” Healey said as she examined paintings, including an image of a tobacco barn. “I love art, I love all this stuff. We’re celebrating small businesses and all that contribute to the fabric of the community.”

While Northampton has periodically been a stop on the campaign trail for statewide candidates, with former Gov. Deval Patrick making an appearance in the city prior to his election in 2006, Healey’s visits to both UMass and downtown Amherst on the same day may have been unusual for a candidate for governor, according to state Rep. Mindy Domb, who was co-hosting the event.

Healey’s visit to Northampton meant a lot to those who got to speak with her.

DNA Executive Director  Amy Cahillane said business owners appreciate being able to tell their stories to someone who could be the next governor.

“For these businesses, this is a wonderful opportunity to share their personal, lived experiences with her directly,” Cahillane said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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