Thornes makes handicapped-access improvements

  • Sean Murphy walks up the new ramp from Herrell's Ice Cream past Captain Candy and Assemble in Thornes Market place. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shoppers in Thornes Marketplace walk up the new ramp from Herrell's Ice Cream past Captain Candy and Assemble, Wednesday, in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 6/7/2017 9:02:35 PM

NORTHAMPTON — I scream, you scream — and with a new handicapped-accessible ramp, everyone is now able to scream for Herrell’s ice cream.

The ramp is part of a series of accessibility renovations undertaken by Main Street fixture Thornes Marketplace, an indoor shopping center built in 1873 that houses Herrell’s and other local boutiques, cafes and even an organic food co-op.

Before the ramp was built, Herrell’s was completely inaccessible to those who rely on mobility aids such as walkers and wheelchairs. The Old South Street entrance and the hallway connecting Herrell’s to the rest of the Thornes shops both had challenging staircases.

“It’s always been tough,” said Herrell’s owner, Judy Herrell.

The ice cream shop tried a variety of creative solutions to accommodate customers who could not make it into the shop. First, they tried a doorbell on the street entrance but they realized that many wheelchair users could not make it up the steep hill to get to the door.

Then, they tried encouraging customers to look at their menu posted online and call in their ice cream orders. Employees would make deliveries to handicapped patrons waiting just beyond the staircase.

This process proved laborious as employees would have to run back and forth to swipe debit cards and make change in the Herrell’s cash register. It also took the fun out of a spontaneous ice cream trip after a day of shopping. “Not everybody was able to call in advance and make a plan,” said Herrell.

Herrell asked “lots of times” over the shop’s 37-year history for an accessibility ramp to be installed but was told that the Old South Street entrance was not an option and that the hallway wasn’t long enough to build a ramp that would be up to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) codes.

Resigned, she said, she “chalked it up to a building that was built in 1875.”

In 2014, Richard Madowitz, Thornes owner since 2006, decided to begin making accessibility renovations to the marketplace. Although these renovations are voluntary, he said Wednesday, he decided to push forward to “accommodate accessibility issues so that everyone can enjoy shops and restaurants in Thornes.”

“We knew it was the right thing to do,” Thornes Manager Jody Doele said. “This place is a destination. We want to make it as welcoming as we can for everybody.”

Starting in 2015, the $500,000 project has added four new handicapped-accessible bathrooms, an automatic door on the skywalk between Thornes and the adjacent parking garage, and banisters on the grand staircase. Herrell’s contributed $20,000 toward the building of the ramp.

*Thornes partnered with architect firm Thomas Douglas Architects to complete the project. They were able to solve the Herrell’s ramp puzzle by dropping the floor down. Founder Thomas Douglas said the project was very complex, “like doing surgery,” and the new ramp is compliant with state and federal handicapped accessibility laws. 

“A hundred-year-old building typically was never meant to accommodate people in wheelchairs,” Douglas said. 

Herrell said the ramp construction has been an “incredibly positive experience,” and she is excited to see Herrell’s “more open to the entire community as a whole.”

Thornes is nearly finished with the accessibility renovations with a few minor projects remaining, including lengthening the ramp into the ACME store so it’s at a more gradual gradient.

*This article has been updated to provide corrected information about construction of the new handicapped-accessible ramp in Thornes Marketplace. 

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