Downtown Pittsfield losing four stores; three point to parking issues


PITTSFIELD -- Call it fate, karma, coincidence, an anomaly -- or the result of the risks all small business owners face.

Whatever the reasons, four small downtown Pittsfield businesses -- Pittsfield Bra & Girl, Jess-et-Mia and Treehouse on North Street, and Twin Hearts Hand Works on Willis Street -- have closed or will be closing.

The owners cited different reasons for closing, with most of the reasons centering around family issues. But three also raised concerns about a lack of parking and/or small amounts of foot traffic -- issues that Rob Proskin, the president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s board of directors, said are being looked at. Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has a quality-of-life committee that meets every month to discuss the issues of parking and foot traffic that the three business owners raised.

Dan Alden, who owns Pittsfield Bra & Girl with his wife, April Burch, said the decision to close the North Street store in August was based on personal reasons and other work commitments. The couple owns a similar store in Great Barrington, which continues to operate, and they also have other jobs. They opened their Pittsfield store in the fall of 2010.

"It was a very tough decision," he said. "We had a great relationship with the city of Pittsfield. They were very supportive of our endeavors. We just had one too many irons in the fire."

Unlike the others, Alden said parking along North Street was not an issue. "I found the parking to be real good," he said.

The Jess-et-Mia storefront will be open until at least Nov. 1 and possibly through the holidays, while its mobile spray tanning business will carry on. Treehouse and Twin Hearts plan to close by the end of October.

"The No. 1 reason we are closing is there's no parking," said Mia Fabrizio, who co-owns Jess-et-Mia with her friend, Jess Lynam. "Foot traffic is very low. We are not getting customers into the store. People who do come in really like it and usually buy something."

Fabrizio also said the construction on North Street, which often blocked the doorways of small businesses, took a toll on their contemporary women's clothing boutique, which opened in November 2010.

While Fabrizio is moving out of the area, Lynam said she may open a similar business in a different location by herself at some point.

Heather Fletcher, who co-owns Treehouse with her husband, Jim, said the business was taking too much time away from their two-child family. Treehouse sells maternity and toddler items, and hosts classes for parents and their newborns.

She also said a lack of foot traffic hampered the business, which opened in September 2011.

"Every week, I would get somebody who would say, ‘I never come down this way,' " Fletcher said.

Cara Carnevale, who owns Twin Hearts, which sells yarn and handicrafts, said she wants to spend more time with her two teenage sons and the animal sanctuary that she operates in Cheshire. She is also planning to sell the building on Willis Street, which she owns.

Carnevale said the city seems more interested in major building projects, such as the Beacon Cinema.

"I don't think that [Pittsfield] is very supportive of small businesses," Carnevale said. "Their goal and their focus has been on places like the movie theater, and they're attracting people who they're giving tax breaks to. It's very tough."

Proskin, the president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., disagreed with Carnevale's claim that the city has more of an interest in bigger businesses than with smaller ones.

"Based on my experience and talking with the mayor, absolutely not," Proskin said. "There's not a stretch of truth. Things get magnified when you're going out of business and magnified the wrong way."

Proskin said it is unusual for four small downtown businesses to close almost simultaneously, but he added, "How many have opened over the last year?"

Proskin, who owns BBE Office Interiors on North Street, said businesses in downtown Pittsfield that have only a few employees struggle more with the issues that larger firms like his are able to handle.

"The other locations, the little ones -- and I say ‘little' on the manpower side -- have a tougher time making a go of it, and no matter what happens it is magnified tremendously," Proskin said. "Having said that, we've been working with the city on having the parking garages open fairly soon."

There have also been discussions about establishing metered parking on North Street, Proskin said, which he said would free up parking spaces that are often occupied all day by employees.

Proskin said the success that North Adams-based Persnickety Toys has had since opening a store on North Street, and expansion plans being considered by the Mad Macs computer store, are proof that small businesses are succeeding in downtown Pittsfield.

"What is it about them that they're succeeding and they have the same problems and the same issues?" he said.

To reach Tony, or (413) 496-6224.
On Twitter: @tonydobrow


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