Time to get your flirt on with BerkshireFlirt

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PITTSFIELD >> A new social group is looking to bring a dating scene back to the Berkshires, and they're kicking things off on Valentine's Day.

"BerkshireFlirt" has evolved from one part girl talk and one part social science, according to co-founder Julia Dixon.

She's a local artist, managing director of Berkshire Creative at 1Berkshire. And yes, she's single, but she knows she's not the only one.

Last month at Thistle & Mirth, Dixon over mimosas with a group of girl friends — some married, some dating, some single — swapped stories of hope and lament about finding romantic relationships in the region.

Dixon, 31, of North Adams, arrived in the Berkshires about 5 years ago as a single lady from the Westchester, N.Y. area.

"It's easier [to meet people] if you're single in New York or a more population-dense area. People are just going out more in many places, where opportunities to meet someone more naturally arise," she said.

Here in the Berkshires, the population's smaller and people and places are more geographically spread out.

Dixon and some of her other friends have tried making connections through online dating websites, but say they prefer meeting and building a rapport with someone in person.

In the early 2000s, there were singles mingles hosted by local groups like Singles' Connection and Singles of the Berkshires. But both groups seemed to have fallen by the wayside.

"Personally, I feel like people don't date anymore. So we started talking about how to cultivate an event where people could just get together and maybe make a connection," Dixon said. "It could give people the chance to stop dating through a screen and be in a space with somebody and share eye contact when having a conversation."

Her friend, Stephanie Mendoza, 23, a relatively new Pittsfield transplant via the Houston, Texas area, has also been eager to meet new people and explore new places to better learn about the Berkshires.

So the two of them have begun building BerkshireFlirt as a way to get the word out that you can meet people, and possibly start a spark in your own backyard.

They've recently started a Facebook page, and on Saturday, Feb. 14, will host their first event in partnership with Thistle & Mirth and the Beacon Cinema.

From 5 to 7 p.m., the West Street bar and lounge will host BerkshireFlirt's Singles Mixer, which will include complimentary hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar. During this portion of the evening, Dixon and Mendoza will mingle as hosts and offer some fun ice breakers to help get conversations started and people moving in the room.

The hosts say to dress in whatever fashion makes you feel comfortable.

The event is free, but ticketed to try to keep an even balance of men and women, though Dixon says adults of all ages and orientations are welcome to attend. The RSVP tickets are available online at Eventbrite.com, with the link posted on BerkshireFlirt's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/BerkshireFlirt.

After 7 p.m., the bar's proprietor Sarah Callaway has invited Berkshire Flirt attendees to stay on for an open mic-style reading of the steamy hit book "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James. There will be sign-ups, a contest and a surprise grand prize for best interpretive reading, be it in the fashion of comedian Gilbert Gottfried's audio book reading or British "Game of Thrones" actor Charles Dance, or a narrative style all your own.

If you're hungry for more afterward, the Beacon Cinema is offering Berkshire Flirt ticket holders discounted tickets for $7.50 to its 10 p.m. screening of the newly released film version of the book.

"I'm really excited for these fun opportunities," said Mendoza, who added that her New Year's resolution is "to be brave this year" and take new chances.

"I hope people take the first step of putting themselves out there, by not only saying 'yes' to a Facebook invite but then actually showing up to an event to meet new people," she said. "It can be scary, but this way we're all there and we all have to take that step forward together."

As a member of 1Berkshire's Population Task force, Dixon and her colleagues have been examining how to get younger people attracted to and interested in living in the Berkshires.

"We wanted to host a fun, light-hearted play on Valentine's Day, and give people a casual, safe, comfortable, environment," she said.

Dixon and Mendoza say that whether someone is single or not, they can still support the cause and refer friends to the BerkshireFlirt website.

"Everyone knows somebody who is single," Mendoza said. "I'm curious to see how the group evolves over time."

According to the most recent American Community Survey estimates based on marital status for county residents ages 15 and up, about 35 percent of males and 29 percent of females, or a total of 35,285 people out of a population of about 124,131 have never been married. A total estimate of 17.3 percent of men and 28 percent of women in the county are officially separated, widowed or divorced.

Jonathan Butler, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce president and chief operating officer of 1Berkshire, endorsed opportunities for singles to connect as a community and economy-building effort.

"Creating more opportunities in the Berkshires for people in their 20s and 30s is a major priority for our organization. What BerkshireFlirt is doing for singles is great, as it connects them with others who are also looking to meet new people so that they can spend a lifetime enjoying our region," he said.


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