Weekend News Editor and Columnist

Mitchell Chapman has been with The Eagle since 2016. He is a former editor of The MCLA Beacon and was a Berkshires Week intern in 2017.

MallReax6 (copy)

The Berkshire Mall, still unoccupied, is the proposed location for an indoor cannabis production facility.

This year marks my 20th year as a Berkshire County resident. Though I was not born here, it’s been home for most of my life, during which echoes of times long past — times I never got to personally witness — have been all around.

I remember prominently as a youngster gazing at the weathered General Electric logo on what is now the SABIC Polymer Processing Development Center as my parents drove down Merrill Road filled with stories of what GE once was and once meant to the city, wondering what those long-gone days must have been like, finding its decrepit monuments curious and eerie.

I can’t help but to look at the Berkshire Mall in the same manner, which serves as a painful reminder of spaces now long-shuttered that are filled with dear memories, some of them mine. As a millennial growing up in the county, the mall served as not only a center of commerce but a central social hub.

As a kid, it was a place where I would often run into friends while out on errands with my parents. As a teenager and young adult, it was a place to go out on dates. In college, the Jay Street Video Games store served as a great place to acquire essential competitive multiplayer games like “Super Smash Bros. Melee” that led to many heated dorm room matches, but it was also a place to play against people from across the county I had never met before through the tournaments it organized.

Since the mall closed in 2019, I have watched with cautious optimism the efforts to reopen it by attracting both old and new tenants in the former retail space, as well as ideas to possibly redevelop it. More than three years after its closure and with the property recently sold to a new owner planning to redevelop it into cannabis mini-farms, efforts to bring back the Berkshire Mall as residents remember it appear to be over. Its path forward appears to be a transformation into something new.

Of course, Target will remain, though for how long remains to be seen. It recently lost its dedicated Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus stop (though the Route 1 bus does stop there by request), and it now serves as the last retail stronghold in the space. In the winter in particular it stands out, as its space — both inside and outside — is well-kept and maintained for customers, something that I can’t say has been the same for the rest of the Berkshire Mall, especially after reading about The Eagle’s recent visit to the property this past winter. By virtue of it being the only Target location in the immediate area, the store will likely be able to linger in its current location as long as it wants to, though if the Berkshire Mall falls into further disrepair, its proximity to what is becoming an eyesore will do it no favors.

In The Eagle’s recent coverage of the current plan to turn the complex into cannabis mini-farms, former Lanesborough Select Board member Henry “Hank” Sayres mentioned that Lanesborough residents are attached to the idea of reviving the mall, which is a sentiment that I think many Berkshire County residents have precisely because its heyday is tied to personal memories like the ones I have.

Particularly with this property, it’s very enticing to turn back time and undo the shortcomings of the mall’s past two owners and breathe life back in a space that used to be a vital part of the Berkshire economy.

I would love to have the mall once again be a place that can support another Berkshire movie theater, a food court and stores like Jay Street that helped make it a retail and social hub. But such sentiments ignore the dire straits the mall was in even before it went completely dark.

Between 2015 and 2019, all four of its national anchor chain stores left voluntarily, and most of the others followed suit, at one point leaving only four stores in the space. There is certainly a lot to be said about the mall’s recent ownership and the string of closures before it permanently closed, but without those key retailers, there is no way forward for the mall.

“Today, the mall, when open, is populated mostly by people walking its halls for exercise or shopping remaining stores,” The Eagle reported on May 16, 2019, about two weeks before its final closure.

The Berkshire Mall was not a thriving retail center singlehandedly killed off by bad decisions from its ownership; like many malls across the country, its core stores were casualties to the rise of online shopping and corporate cutbacks as it quickly found itself in an untenable situation from which it never recovered.

It’s time to let the Berkshire Mall go. Whatever the future of the mall is, it must not be blinded by nostalgia for what it once was. For the town of Lanesborough specifically, the property can either be a burden or a boon. Based on the county’s haul from cannabis-based tax revenues last year, it’s likely that the proposed plan for cannabis mini-farms could be substantially the latter.

The Pittsfield I know today has little reminders about the glory days of G.E., though if you look hard enough, you can still see its scattered footprints. But today I think the city laments less about what it lost and thinks more about where it’s going next, a mindset I hope can also be applied to the Berkshire Mall.

Yesterday is never coming back, but tomorrow is yet to come, and I think its possibilities, though they lack certainty, should inspire excitement, hope and optimism.

Mitchell Chapman is The Eagle’s weekend news editor, as well as a columnist.