Friday September 28, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The future of the rustic Berkshire Flower Co. remains in limbo just three months ahead of the Conservation Commission's twice-extended deadline to vacate the one-acre site on South Street, owned by Patriot Suites Inc., so it can be reclaimed as open space for the city's southern gateway.

Berkshire Flower Co. owner Bridget Brown said Thursday she's making preparations to close Dec. 31, if necessary, then to take a few months off to regroup and then seek employment.

Brown, who rents the property from Patriot Suites, opened the store in 1987 at the original home of Guido's Fresh Marketplace and the Berkshire Record Outlet. Earlier, it housed the Quarry Snack Bar from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Brown, a Lenox resident, spoke up during the City Council's open-mic segment Tuesday night to make her case for a long-term extension at the location. "One year at a time means I can't invest in my business," she said.

Her daughter Tara, 13, an eighth-grader at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, spoke up on behalf of her mother: "Her being booted out doesn't seem fair."

A supporter, Lee Everett, of Pittsfield, suggested councilors incorporate the flower shop into the greenway "so it can become part of a welcoming entrance to the city."

The site, part of a larger property on Dan Fox Drive acquired by Patriot Suites Inc. in 2003 from the family of the late former owner, A. Gordon Rose, is under a 1997 conservation restriction that would demolish the store and replace it with native plantings.

In a conversation with The Eagle on Thursday, Brown, 52, cited supportive emails she has received since Tuesday from a majority of city councilors. Her ideal scenario, she said, would be a 10- to 15-year extension to take her to retirement age.

"I'm not against open space," Brown said. "I just don't see the urgency. I'm not endangering anything. I do think it's a fight about precedent, more than it is a personal fight."

But she is more than willing to accept another one-year extension "rather than go out of business."

The store has an average of three full-time employees year-round. Brown's son, Levi, 20, and other family members help out. She opened the business with her husband, Matthew Lewis, who died 15 years ago.

Brown acknowledged that supporters cite the down-to-earth charm of the floral shop, while others view it as an eyesore.

Patriot Suites' local attorney, Stan Parese, of Parese, Sabin, Smith & Gold, said on Thursday that, to his knowledge, his client would not object to another reprieve for Berkshire Flower Co.

"They don't have a stake one way or the other. They're neutral but wish to be a good corporate citizen," said Parese. "Patriot has no desire to move a business off the property if the city wishes it to be there."

If not, he added, the company would raze the structure and turn the land over to the city after Dec. 31. Patriot has not revealed plans for the hotel it closed in 2010.

For Conservation Com missioner James B. Conant, the ball is in Patriot Suites' court.

"Brown has a rental property, and the owner has not come forward to state their intentions," Conant said. "Until they do, there's really nothing to talk about since I don't know what their intentions are."

But Conant emphasized that he's "open-minded to look at any request, though I can't speak for the board."

The situation is complicated, he added, but "we're certainly open to revisit it."

But first, Conant pointed out, Patriot would need to come before the Conservation Commission and the City Council.

Meanwhile, Brown is seeking new legal representation while hoping her state of suspended animation can be lifted, one way or the other.

Eagle Staff Reporter Dick Lindsay contributed to this report.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.