Ralph Petillo steps down as head of Lenox chamber
LENOX — As it seeks to expand while the hospitality industry continues its growth spurt, the Lenox Chamber of Commerce is looking for a new executive director.
Ralph Petillo, the theater professional, educator and local business owner who has held the post since March 2007, announced this week he is stepping down.
In a letter to the outgoing chamber President Carl Pratt, Petillo, 69, explained that his decision stems from his increased involvement in theater education as well as his own Berkshire-based theater company, still to be named.
At their annual meeting on Wednesday evening at Enso Bistro on Pittsfield Road, chamber members elected former corporate executive Rob Murray to succeed Pratt, the former manager of Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort who now operates a consulting business and plans to remain on the board.
Murray, who moved to Stockbridge in 2012, is owner of Overlee Property Holdings, a commercial real estate business with several sites including the Church Street Cafe building in Lenox.
"We need to be more clear on working as advocates for the town and encouraging more investment downtown," Murray said in an interview. "We have a history of making it difficult to invest downtown, while encouraging it on Route 7."
Petillo, a well-known local actor and director, said he hopes to continue to play roles in Berkshire Theatre Group community productions at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, where he has appeared in "Oliver!" "A Christmas Carol," "Peter Pan," "Annie," and "The Wizard of Oz."
He also teaches drama part-time at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, leading four courses a day plus two musicals annually. His teaching responsibilities, including BTG-related work at Reid Middle School in Pittsfield, have expanded dramatically in the past three years.
Petillo emphasized that the decision to resign was solely his once he decided to go back into show business, event planning and drama education, adding up to a full-time workload.
"I'm overjoyed that the sun is shining on my life at this late stage," he said in an interview. "My theater career is rejuvenating, and the energy I get from the kids at Lenox Memorial makes me feel young again. I'm in seventh heaven. It feels wonderful to be able to create again."
The Long Island, N.Y., native worked in the entertainment division of Disney World in Florida from 1971-80, directing, performing and writing.
Giving up show business temporarily, he relocated to the Berkshires with his wife, Sophie, and their two sons in 1984. The couple operated Cheesecake Charlie's, a bakery and eatery in Lenox and Great Barrington for 22 years.
Petillo's resignation takes effect Jan. 31, he said, though he would stay on for an additional month "to ensure a smooth transition to new leadership."
"While theatrical pursuits have always been my passion, I very much enjoyed working to bring people into the town of Lenox and create memorable experiences for them season after season," he wrote in his resignation letter. "I deeply appreciate the opportunities for professional growth that the Lenox Chamber of Commerce has afforded me, and I hope to continue working with the chamber in the future."
Murray stated that Petillo's resignation was voluntary in light of his increased responsibilities at Lenox Memorial and in his professional theater activities.
"We definitely need a full-time executive director, ASAP," Murray said. He is heading a search committee that's being formed.
The new president said he's keen on forging closer ties between the Chamber and town government leaders with more support from the local business community.
"What makes us special is having a New England town with more than tourists coming in," he said. "We need to help grow the town, with more housing in the right price range so we can have younger and more local people who want to live here. There is some willingness from the town to move in this direction, but we need to have more of a voice encouraging that."
In addition to naming Murray, who ran unopposed, as president of the board's executive committee, chamber members elected Kim Flynn of Lenox as vice president by two votes over Tim McCaffery, co-owner of the Cornell Inn on Main Street. Carlene Tavares, owner of Lenox Printing and Mercantile, was elected treasurer while Tjasa Sprague was re-elected as secretary. The entire board includes 16 members.
The chamber lists 175 business and nonprofit members currently, all but 25 located in Lenox, according to marketing director Kameron Spaulding. Among the outside members are the Norman Rockwell Museum and Mass MoCA.
"There are plenty of businesses in Lenox that are not part of the chamber," Murray said. "We need to get them involved."
He also predicted that with four of its founding members now on the chamber board, the Lenox Merchants Group representing 34 retailers would move toward amalgamation with the chamber.
"The challenge is to strike a balance between tourism and local services," Murray said. "The town is going through a transition ... some new energy is coming in. A transition is always a tough time but we have an opportunity to keep the momentum going."
"If people want a serviceable town, they have to stand up and say, 'Let's not keep doing the same things over and over.' "
The organization cited MacKimmie Co. as the best new business opened during the past three years in Lenox, Paul Merlino, president of the former Lenox National Bank (now Adams Community Bank) for community commitment, and Jim Terry, co-owner of the former Village Gifts, for lifetime achievement.
Chamber at a glance ...
Executive Committee officers and board members elected by the Lenox Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday:
President: Rob Murray, owner, Overlee Property Holdings
Vice-President: Kim Flynn, paralegal, Heller & Robbins
Treasurer: Carlene Tavares, owner, Lenox Printing & Mercantile
Secretary: Tjasa Sprague, co-owner, Undermountain Farm & Stables
Laurence Oberwager, director, Tanglewood Business Partners
Doris Barsauskas, co-founder, Lenox Merchants Group, owner of MacKimmie Co.
Suzannah Van Schaick, co-founder, Lenox Merchants Group, owner of Second Home
Pamela Mackey, Lenox branch officer, Adams Community Bank
Jackie McNinch, co-owner, Olde Heritage Tavern
Luke Toole, Toole Lodging Group
Jane Curtin, Lenox branch manager, Greylock Federal Credit Union
Tina Bartini, Lenox branch manager, Lee Bank
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