State recovery grants to aid region’s economy

  • Bluebonnet Diner cook Al Angarita checks the next ticket after preparing an order of cheddar, pepper and mushroom eggs with a grilled muffin on Tuesday, morning, March 9, 2021, in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/19/2021 7:36:34 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A state grant program is providing opportunities for businesses throughout the region to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by promoting restaurants and redevelopment, supporting small business owners, and giving tourists information that can help support the local economy.

The 413 Takeout Marketing Campaign, led by the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Northampton Association, and a project proposed by the Amherst Business Improvement District, are among initiatives receiving support through the state’s Massachusetts Office of Business Development’s Regional Pilot Project Grant Program.

The program recently began distributing $5 million to 37 cities, towns and nonprofit organizations as a way to help communities recover from the economic losses caused by COVID-19.

“These grants will empower recipients to leverage their own local expertise to tailor recovery strategies that support the unique needs of each region of Massachusetts,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement announcing the funding.

For the 413 campaign, an $80,026 grant will allow for the replication and expansion of an initiative that has boosted the prospects of eateries surviving by expanding to cities and towns throughout the Pioneer Valley. The campaign has encouraged individuals to find four friends to get takeout meals from Northampton restaurants, once a week and for three months,

“We do believe it has mobilized the community to support our restaurants,” said Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vincent Jackson, adding that restaurant owners tell him they have seen an uptick in sales and that the campaign is likely a contributing factor, along with the state’s easing of capacity limits and more people getting vaccinated.

So far, 400 individuals have taken the 413 pledge, while others appear to be doing so on their own.

The money allows the Northampton chamber to provide marketing materials to the 11 other chambers of commerce in Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties, and to expand the program in Northampton for another three months.

“We know restaurants are a big part of the economy, and we think this will do wonders for our communities,” Jackson said.

Jackson said he appreciates the collaboration for seeking the money from Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

“My goal is to create these programs so it’s running in May, June, July and possibly through August,” Jackson said.

Amherst project

In Amherst, redevelopment may be possible for a vacant downtown building, which could become a hub for live music and poetry performances, artists in residence, a makers space, a farm-to-table market, and a cafe or brewpub.

At the Amherst BID, $175,000 will be used to start an exploration of its “Revitalize Downtown Amherst Project,” branching out from the “Destination Amherst” outlined prior to the pandemic, and to “lease the largest and most prominent building in downtown Amherst” to become a destination.

Amherst BID Executive Director Gabrielle Gould said that these start-up funds will be used to begin discussions with people in the community and that her organization has also applied for additional state grant funding for the project.

“COVID-19 has shuttered many businesses,” Gould said. “This is a time to really look at Amherst as its own destination and build on that, create reasons to come across the (Coolidge) bridge, to stay in town, to vacation here.”

Amherst, she added, was among the hardest hit communities due to the main economic driver, the University of Massachusetts, sending all students home in March 2020. The project would complement the existing retail stores and restaurants.

“This is an incredible vote of confidence. Now we really start the hard work,” Gould said.

LGBTQ assistance

The largest grant in the region is the $200,000 going to the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce. The community development organization, based in Boston, will be creating one-on-one business assistance models for LGBTQ small businesses in Northampton, Easthampton and Holyoke. This will include trainings, consulting and mentorship, and identifying funding opportunities.

CEO and Executive Director Grace Moreno said the organization wants to help businesses of any size. “We will help each organization where they are and what they need to move forward,” Moreno said.

This could include developing a website or marketing materials to initiate the business or to spring back from COVID-19.

The chamber also will be working with Mount Holyoke College and has already got support from LaChapelle, who selected it to run a community business academy with Rising Tide Capital.

Boost for tourism

The Belchertown Community Alliance Inc. is receiving $40,000 to develop a multimedia interactive mobile app to support the revitalization of economic growth through virtual and regional tourism in both Belchertown and Ware.

Board President April Jasak-Bangs explained that the project grew out of Reflections, a summer art project in which a geolocation map app was created to highlight art located on the former Belchertown State School property, as well as include some digital-only points with oral histories or historic photos.

Because Belchertown and Ware share the Quabbin visitors center and tower, Jasak-Bangs said it made sense to expand the mobile app.

“The same ideas are going to apply, highlighting natural resources, historic points of interest, arts and culture events, and other recreational points of interest as a tool to attract visitors to our towns who would then spend money at our businesses,” Jasak-Bangs said.

Future iterations of the app would include pop-up events and coupon codes to area businesses for visiting highlighted geolocation points.

The last project in the region is for the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, Inc., receiving $175,000 to launch Western Massachusetts Anchor Collaborative, to promote investment and activities that build economic equity through initiatives that hire and promote from targeted neighborhoods in both Holyoke and Springfield.

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


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