Easthampton boardwalk brings boots downtown

  • Jennifer Grochowski and her son, Henry Thibodeau, 6, of Easthampton enjoy the Cottage Street side of the Nashawannuck Pond Promenade Park in Easthampton on Friday afternoon. Right, visitors walk down Cottage Street in Easthampton just up the street from the Nashawannuck Pond Promenade Park on Friday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING PHOTOS

  • Weyehn Reeves, right, and Easthampton neighbors Mahi, left, and Mahir Patel, both 9, return a paddle boat to the Payson Avenue side of the Nashawannuck Pond promenade after a trip around the pond in Easthampton on Friday afternoon, August 11, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Visitors walk down Cottage Street in Easthampton just up the street from the Nashawannuck Pond Promenade Park on Friday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Weyehn Reeves, center, and Easthampton neighbors Mahir, left, and Mahi Patel, both 9, return a paddle boat to the Payson Avenue side of the Nashawannuck Pond promenade after a trip around the pond in Easthampton on Friday afternoon, August 11, 2017. In the background is Cottage Street. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

EASTHAMPTON — Jim Ingram, owner of Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream, said the Nashawannuck Pond promenade has been the best thing that ever happened to his shop. On the day of the boardwalk’s grand opening in 2015, he saw a jump in business, and sales have sustained the bump ever since.

“I always knew it would be good for business, but I didn’t know how good,” he said.

City officials said the almost $850,000 boardwalk would revitalize the area for the public and bring traffic for local businesses.

“We faced a lot of challenges,” Mayor Karen Cadieux said. “It was worth every one of them.” 

During her campaign for mayor in 2013, Cadieux said she voiced her support for the boardwalk project, stating it would help make Easthampton a destination city. Cadieux said she received some criticism, but since the boardwalk was built, she said she’s received “amazingly positive feedback.”

Recently, the city installed Wi-Fi so those on the boardwalk can access the internet, Cadieux said.

Many longtime business owners and managers said they’ve definitely seen an uptick in foot traffic since the promenade opened, but whether more traffic has translated into more sales varies from business to business.

Ingram said the foot traffic does translate to ice cream sales because people who want to look out on the pond often want a snack to enjoy at the same time.

However, for Mark DeGrandpre’s business, DeGrandpre Jewelers, increased foot traffic doesn’t necessarily translate to increased sales. Expensive rings and watches aren’t impulse buys in the way ice cream is, but he said he does get more visitors popping in during the summer months.

He said he has always been supportive of the boardwalk’s construction, as he believes most business owners on Cottage Street are.

“What’s not to like?” DeGrandpre said. “It looks 100 times better than it did before.”

Eileen Corbeil, owner of White Square Fine Books and Art, said her shop hasn’t seen as immediate an increase in business as those closer to the boardwalk — White Square is about halfway up Cottage Street, whereas Mt. Tom Homemade Ice Cream is at the end, next to the promenade — but she said having the boardwalk is still an advantage.

“It’s a place to start, and then you just kind of wander,” she said. “I’m supportive of anything that makes the street lively.”

Corbeil estimates about 70 percent of her customers look for a specific title, while 30 percent of her sales are impulse buys.

“Foot traffic helps,” she said.

Greg Silveira, manager of Luthiers Co-op, has worked at the combo instrument shop, performance venue, and beer and wine bar for the last five years.

He said the promenade hasn’t necessarily caused an uptick in instrument sales, which are not impulse buys and have a specific market, but the increased foot traffic has caused more people to stop in for a beer or glass of wine in the evenings.

He said it’s also increased awareness of the business among residents.

“If they are a musician, they might not be in the market, but when they are, they’ll know we’re here,” Silveira said.

For Melanie Salvaggio and Katie MacCallum, the Nashawannuck Pond boardwalk sparked a business opportunity. The couple opened Valley Paddler in May, offering kayak, canoe and paddle boat rentals.

Salvaggio said the business is weather-dependent, but overall it has been steady. She’s also able to collaborate with events held on the pond.

“I’ve met a lot of people,” Salvaggio said, adding that some are lifelong residents that have never used the pond.

Robert Walsh, now a Florida resident but lived Easthampton for more than 50 years, visited the area on Thursday. For a Father’s Day gift, his two daughters took him paddle boating on the pond.

“I looks really nice,” Walsh said of the boardwalk. He recalls a time years ago when the pond was drained. 

Other people enjoy the pond, watching the boats drift by. Fish jump over the water and sometimes a heron will fly overhead.

Leslie Sharr, 68, a four-year Easthampton resident, often comes out to the pond with her husband Marc, 82.

On Thursday, the couple sat under a tree in the grass. Leslie knitted as Marc chatted. 

“The only problem I have with the boardwalk is it’s not shady,” Leslie Sharr said. But during the cooler months in the spring and fall, the couple will sit out on the boardwalk.

Multiple businesspeople said the promenade is just one part of an overall rebirth of the Cottage Street area, which has been important to the growth of local businesses.

Easthampton’s abandoned mill buildings have transformed into spaces for artists and businesses. The Massachusetts Cultural Council designated Cottage Street as a cultural district in 2013, and the annual Cultural Chaos street festival started showcasing local artists and businesses four years ago.

Ingram said these things, combined with the boardwalk, have made Easthampton more attractive, especially for people trying to start new businesses.

“The town has basically reinvented itself,” he said. “Businesses still come and go, and you still need a good idea, but you have a much better chance of surviving.”

Caitlin Ashworth contributed to this report.