DALTON -- Berkshire Organics has operated a full-service market since it opened six years ago. But Brian and Aleisha Gibbons’ business isn’t just about groceries anymore.
Customers can now purchase freshly cut meat, home-made baked goods, natural cheeses and prepared foods made from organic ingredients on Dalton Division Road.
The Gibbonses found a unique way to expand into these fields. Instead of trying to operate those functions by themselves, they found people already established in those areas who were looking for space to run their own businesses.
The result is five different businesses with five different ownership groups that are all located under the same roof. The couple began planning the new format in November, and put it into operation in April. A grand opening celebration took place May 30.
"It was a long arduous process, but it’s been so rewarding," Brian Gibbons said. "I’m really happy with the way the whole transformation occurred."
The change occurred through a series of events that included the sale of the property last fall, the closing of the longtime business that Berkshire Organics shared its building with, and the Gibbons’ decision to expand their establishment into that 2,600 square foot vacated space.
Three of the new businesses -- Red Apple Butchers, nAtURAlly Catering + Takeout, and Bake Me Pretty, are located in the space that was once occupied by the former Burgner’s Market. The fourth firm, Cricket Creek Cheese Counter, is located inside Berkshire Organics’ original space. The Gibbons don’t own their building, but lease space to the four new businesses.
The property’s former owner, Thomas Burgner, who ran Burgner’s Market, sold the property to three local businessmen for $320,000 last November.
Burgner had put the property on the market after closing his store earlier in 2013. The property was on the market for awhile, and the uncertainty over its future caused the Gibbons’ to think about leaving as well.
"When the property was for sale for awhile we were kind of uncertain about what we were going to do," Aleisha said. "We kind of waited it out."
One of the members of the new ownership group also operated a series of convenience stores, and according to Aleisha planned to put a similar enterprise in the space formerly occupied by Burgner’s.
The Gibbons’ had been eyeing that space as well, but weren’t sure it made economic sense.
"We had been thinking of renting that side, but we weren’t really sure if we wanted to take that extra plunge, and take on all that rent, and double the store," Aleisha said.
That’s when the couple hit on the idea of bringing people who were established in other fields that had an interest in running their own businesses but needed the space to do so.
"Part of that realization was we had tried to run our own kitchen in Berkshire Organics for a couple of years," Aleisha said. "In order to have a successful kitchen or other type of business in here, the person who runs it really needs to be invested in it."
"It wasn’t that our kitchen had flopped or failed," she said. "It was more about finding that right person to run it and put their whole heart into it."
The Gibbons were already familiar with James Burden and Jazu Stine, who co-own Red Apple Butchers, and Kate Miller, who owns Bake Me Pretty. Aura Whitman of Cheshire, who owns nAtURAlly Catering + Takeout, is the former owner of Cafe Reva, the popular Pittsfield restaurant that closed last September when her landlord declined to help bring the building up to code.
The fourth business was originally going to be a fish market, but the owners of that venture dropped out when they had trouble finding investors, and were replaced by Cricket Creek, which is a farm in Williamstown.
Burden, Stine and Miller had never operated their own businesses before.
"We definitely entertained the idea of a free-standing shop," Stine said. "But we liked the idea of not asking people to make that extra stop.
"We’re starting small here," he added. "We certainly didn’t have a huge amount of money to start this thing. So it was a great opportunity to get in someplace where there’s already foot traffic and start to test the idea that there’s really a need for this and that it’s something that people want."
Brian Gibbons said the couple has received positive feedback regarding the new concept. Regular customers like the idea.
"I love it," said Cindy Haddad of Pittsfield, who compared the new layout to Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, which operates its stores in Pittsfield and Great Barrington under a similar format.
Haddad lives closer to Berkshire Organics than Guido’s. She said it’s nice to know that, "when you live close by you can get natural food."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224