Pittsfield has lost one small downtown business and will be losing four more in the weeks and months ahead, and while there are many different reasons for their departure, the losses all hurt. The issue is whether or not Pittsfield could have done something to keep them in business.
Pittsfield Bra & Girl has closed, Jess-et-Mia, the Treehouse and Twin Hearts Hand Works are in the process, and Bisque Beads & Beyond announced in June it would be closing. Four of the five are on North Street, with Twin Hearts on Willis Street after a move from nearby North Street five years ago. With the Christmas sales season approaching, this would seem to be an odd time for a business to call it quits.
The co-owner of Jess-et-Mia told The Eagle that an absence of parking and light foot traffic made it difficult to draw customers. However, Great Barrington has less available parking downtown than does Pittsfield and more foot traffic on its main and side streets. Towns and cities everywhere have problems with parking, but the issue in Pittsfield has long appeared to be the unwillingness of shoppers to walk a couple of blocks to go to a store. If drivers insist on always finding a spot in front of a chosen store, than yes, there is inadequate parking.
The owner of Twin Hearts asserts that city government is not supportive of small businesses while giving tax breaks to major projects like the Beacon Cinema. The Beacon is a major reason why North Street has the foot traffic it has, however modest, and it is a draw for neighboring restaurants. The tax breaks collected for the Beacon by the Ruberto administration are paying and will pay dividends. It isn't clear what more can be done to help small businesses, but a discussion of that issue might enliven what is shaping up as an unusually quiet October for Pittsfield leading up to the November 5 city elections.
The ease of Internet sales has undermined local retailers around the country, as have the big box chain stores with their mammoth parking lots. The harm that will come to small businesses is another reason to think twice before bringing yet another big box store to the William Stanley Business Park. It is in the best interest of Pittsfield to do what it can to help small businesses downtown and elsewhere, and ideas are welcome as to how to do so.