Citing pot and panhandlers, Northampton’s ConVino Wine Bar owner plans closure

  • Caroline McDaniel, owner of ConVino Wine Bar in Northampton, talks about her decision to shut down her business. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Caroline McDaniel, owner of ConVino Wine Bar in Northampton, talks about her decision to shut down her business. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sue Kassirer of Leverett talks about the impending closure of ConVino Wine Bar in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sue Kassirer, of Leverett, talks about the impending closure of ConVino Wine Bar in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2019 3:53:03 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Four and a half years since opening in the basement of Thornes Marketplace, ConVino Wine Bar will close its doors for good on Aug. 20.

Caroline McDaniel, 56, the owner of ConVino, said she was not yet ready to discuss the reasons she is closing the bar, which also sells Mediterranean-inspired food, but said she came to her decision in the past week. For a while, she said, her business was growing. Eventually, it slowed down.

“I’ve done a lot of thinking about it, because you try and figure out, ‘Why is this year worse than last year? What am I doing differently?’ McDaniel said. “I’m not. So it’s not me.”

She believes a heavy presence of panhandlers and congestion caused by the city’s recreational marijuana dispensary, NETA, has negatively impacted the downtown’s business climate. Of the two, McDaniel said NETA was the more problematic.

“I moved to Northampton to open this wine bar,” said McDaniel, who last lived in New York City. “I think Northampton is a fantastic town — at least it was. But it could be again.”

McDaniel said NETA has lured many people from outside the city who arrive and take over the parking. Although she said she doesn’t care if people smoke marijuana, the traffic that NETA attracts does not usually trickle down, she said.

“The pot store here has been terrible for businesses,” she said, noting that the city has made considerable money off the tax revenue.

“Northampton is going to be an open-air mall with pot,” she added.

Since NETA opened, Northampton’s meals tax revenue in November, December and January was $187,976, up around 9.7 percent from those months in the previous fiscal year. The city also received $184,136 from meals tax revenue in February, March and April — an increase of about 4.8 percent from the previous fiscal year.

Customers have brought up to her on multiple occasions the large number of homeless people on Main Street, McDaniel said.

“I’m not saying that the legitimately mentally ill, or people who are truly down on their luck, that they shouldn’t have some kind of support,” she said. “But letting them take over the sidewalks … People don’t want their children walking down the street here. People don’t want to come for a fun night out and have someone asking them for money every three steps.”

She believes the homeless population in Northampton could be helped by that same tax revenue from marijuana — lifting pressure off businesses that she said are struggling due to panhandlers.

“Creating some sort of program or incentives for them to get help is maybe what they should spend all of their pot money on,” McDaniel said of the city.

A trend of businesses closing in the downtown area is a tangible issue, she said. Pastry shop La Fiorentina is closing this month, along with Viva Fresh Pasta. Faces, a longtime clothing and variety store on Main Street, closed in the spring and moved to the Hampshire Mall in Hadley.

McDaniel also attributed some of the closures to high rent in the downtown area, saying she has heard that businesses are leaving the city for Easthampton because the rents in Northampton “are considerably higher.”

But she does not ascribe her decision to close ConVino to the high rent.

“I don’t think my rent from Thornes was the least bit unfair,” she said, though she wouldn’t divulge how much she pays. “I thought that I got an extremely fair deal.”

In the end, McDaniel said she’s sad to leave Northampton behind as a business owner, but that she is proud of the eatery.

“It’s been fantastic. Of course, I don’t love every day. It’s a restaurant, it’s brutal,” she said. “My regular customers are great, and I have a great staff.”

She said she started to tell patrons about the impending closure Wednesday, and she wants to give her staff time to figure out their next steps.

Outside of the restaurant on Thursday afternoon, Sue Kassirer, of Leverett, said she was upset that there have been so many businesses closing downtown.

“It’s depressing,” she said. “It seems like rents are choking out the city itself, and variety is disappearing.”

But Kassirer isn’t convinced that NETA is the root cause of many of these businesses closing.

“The only thing I’ve noticed about the dispensaries is that I’ll smell pot around town a little more often,” she said. “That’s it.”

Will Brideau owns Jackson & Connor in Thornes Marketplace and said that he thinks the homeless population in the city is a “complicated issue.”

“There’s a lot of different facets to it, and no real easy solutions,” he said. “It’s really sad.”

Brideau said he has been to ConVino multiple times for drinks with friends and is disappointed to see another business in Northampton shut down.

“It’s definitely going to be missed,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere and the ambience and great service. They’ve always been nothing but friendly and helpful.”

Michael Connors can be reached at
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