SHEFFIELD — Other than a devastating global pandemic and the economically brutal Berkshire winters, it's baffling that the town of Sheffield isn't a more vital and inviting spot to meet, eat and shop. Geographically, it should be a gold mine. It has so much more than other little towns with its anchors of a bank, post office, library, churches, Town Hall, gas station, liquor store and surrounding shops. Add to that it has adequate parking and high visibility from Route 7 with a steady volume of traffic.
So, why can't Sheffield successfully hold onto a restaurant or a coffee shop or small market? Perhaps one of the answers is that the now vacant shops need a combination of smaller and diverse venues all under one roof. A general store/co-op of sorts, not just one singularly focused shop or restaurant. This area would certainly benefit from more personal and interactive venues to complement existing and long-standing businesses.
So what could the residents of Sheffield, nearby towns and travelers benefit from full-time? Or nearly full-time?
What Sheffield should explore is how have other little shops in the area have been able to endure and succeed. Review their successes and longevity in the planning stages and package them all in one location. It would be great to have farm fresh produce and goods from the farmers' market all week long; great coffee and pastries (think Sweet Williams in Salisbury); those wonderful breads from the already scheduled deliveries from Arthur Avenue; the best pies and donuts from Taft Farm and Freund Farm; fresh meats, poultry, eggs and dairy products from The Mill River Farm; ready-to-go and/or frozen meals as the Otis Poultry Farm sell, and wonderful soups sold at Buggy Whip. It would be an added bonus if local residents could also be involved and make it a place to sell or display their specialties and services. A small gift shop showcasing local artists and craftspeople would complete an inviting and hopefully profitable enterprise. Add some outside seating (maybe in the future indoor seating) and a town center where all can meet, greet, shop, and do business has been born.
Things change in the winter, of course. A portion of the population no longer ventures north. Full-time residents retreat into their homes. It gets dark early and sitting outside in the freezing cold is no longer appealing or possible. These factors must be addressed in order to be successful. Do not compete with the other goods and services from existing shops. Ask for volunteers to help with ideas, marketing, displays and preparing the sites. Sheffield has very varied and talented civic-minded residents with great ideas. Use them.
Of course, this all sounds so easy to do and that is never the case. The logistics, lawyers, landlords and leases will be an issue. Financing and funding, winters and seasonal homeowners are a few of the others.
But Sheffield is worth the time and effort. In this time of fear, uncertainty, economic hardship, quarantining and social distancing, it deserves to be more than an impersonal small strip mall. Sheffield deserves to be a vibrant community center.
Susan McAvoy Agoglia has been a resident of Sheffield and Mill River for 21 years.