LEE -- Micah Stone loves to cook. His wife, Carrie, has great baking skills. Put them together in a commercial kitchen and you have the family-run "Knead a Bagel" on Main Street, the latest business to join downtown Lee’s retail renaissance.
"We have always wanted to be business owners," said Micah Stone. "I worked in a bagel shop in Colorado called Einstein Bagels where I really enjoyed the different creations they made with their sandwiches."
As for Carrie, Micah says baking is in her genes.
"Carrie is a self-taught baker who has baked cakes and cookies professionally for local eateries the past four years," he said. "She gets her talent from her father and her father’s mother who both baked constantly."
The Stones, raised and living in Lee, are one of three entrepreneurs to take advantage of Lee’s Main Street revitalization. Two doors down from "Knead a Bagel," which opened in mid-April, is the well established "Cakewalk," bought by Anita Forzano and her husband last summer. For music lovers, The Shop & Acoustic Cafe debuted a month ago on Main Street’s north end and is a work in progress, according to owner Michael Sayers.
The downtown newcomers join more than a dozen restaurants, retail stores and professional businesses that relocated or opened anew along Main Street the past three years. Turning Downtown Lee into a dining and shopping destination in the Berkshires has been spurred by two major revitalization projects. In the summer of 2011, Lee businessman Michael McMan-
mon and his Lee-based College Internship Program completed the over $3 million refurbishment of a mostly vacant Baird & Benton block. CIP occupies the upper floors with an art gallery, cafe, tanning and nail salons at street level.
Across the street, Berkshire Housing Development Corporation extensively renovated the 16 apartments of the Consolati building. The $2.7 million project wrapped up last fall and ensured much needed affordable housing stayed in the downtown area.
After 30 years in food service -- the last 15 in bakeries -- Forzano decided the time was right to be in business for herself.
"I felt comfortable enough to go out on my own; the kids were grown and this is my baby now," she said. "It’s definitely a passion of love as I’m here 80 hours a week."
Forzano also welcomes the Stones, believing they will have their own following, just like Cakewalk which features pastries, cookies and cakes, as well as soups, sandwiches and salads.
"This town needed a bagel place and I don’t want to see an empty storefront," she said.
"Knead a Bagel" occupies the former Verizon Family Wireless storefront that was vacated last year.
The Shop & Acoustic Cafe, which opened April 14, also filled vacant ground floor space in the Nolan block at the corner of Main and Center streets. Sayers says he was quickly enamored by the storefront, seeing a need for a music store/performance venue unlike others in the area.
"We’ve been getting 35 people a day, since day one," said the Pittsfield native who lives on nearby Canal Street.
The storefront window displays various guitars and musical equipment, while inside features a coffee bar and a stage where rock ‘n roll wannabees can practice their singing and instrument playing and have it recorded.
The stage also hosts area musical acts Fridays and Saturdays, entertainment that Sayers vows won’t bother the neighbors.
"I don’t want to get loud," he said.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233