Best of the Berkshires: A winning celebration

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PITTSFIELD — Ostensibly, it was a celebration and recognition of the county's most prominent businesses, services and politicians.

The reality was that it was a pretty fun party, with music, food and considerable fellowship.

About 900 people, from business owners to political figures, supporters and visitors attended the first annual Best of the Berkshires party, held Thursday night at in The Clocktower Building, which is home to The Berkshire Eagle.

The Best of the Berkshires competition is actually about 17 years old, having been started in 2000, according to Eagle Executive Editor Kevin Moran.

Previously, Moran said, winners got a nice framed certificate.

"But this is a first," he said of this year's bash. "And we believe it will be an annual event to celebrate the best the Berkshires has to offer. When you think about it, the bar in Berkshire County is pretty high. So being the best here is an accomplishment."

"It's a countywide block party," observed Eagle Publisher Alan English.

"We're celebrating the best of the best," said Eagle President Fredric D. Rutberg.

Thursday's event was an overflow gig, according to Eagle Advertising Sales Manager Kate Teutsch.

"We started out with 45 vendors," said Teutsch. "But we got up to 85 vendors pretty quickly.

"The Best of the Berkshires competition is tremendously popular with our readers," said Teutsch. "Annually, there are about 20,000 ballots cast. There's always been a lot of interest.

"Which makes me think," she said, "that we should have started this years ago."

There were 85 vendors crowded into the former tear sheet room of The Eagle. There was a disc jockey, and food and a bartender. But if one didn't venture outside, one missed the portable brick oven, where Matthew England, owner of Hot Tomatoes restaurant, was passing out pizza slices.

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Hot Tomatoes, of course, was named Best Pizza Place. In case you were wondering.

"The big thing is the oven and the seasoning," said England of the secret of his restaurant's success. That was as far as he would go, but he had a brisk business.

"We take this award very seriously," said Noel Henebury, sales manager of Hotel on North, winner of Best Hotel/Motel. "We want to have the best hotel in the Berkshires, and we appreciate the support of the people who voted for us."

The first vending booth visitors ran into was the Chocolate Springs booth, which is sort of the New England Patriots of the Best of the Berkshires competition, winning Best Chocolatier fairly routinely.

"It's great to win this," said owner Joshua Needleman. "But the best thing about this is that you see all these businesses in one room. That's something."

In fact, according to Warren C. Dews Jr., chief consumer sales and event officer for The Eagle, that was one of the underlying goals.

"We're not just a newspaper," he said. "We're part of the community. This is an event that we hope will bring the community together."

Dews said he wasn't surprised by the overwhelming turnout of businesses and support.

"A lot of businesses in Berkshire County know how important this is," he said.

And apparently, that is true. Numerous vendors agreed that while it was nice to win the "Best Of" designations, it is perhaps at least as important to come together in one room.

"I like the idea of everyone getting together," said Jodi Cahill, a sales associate at Wad's Nursery in Great Barrington. "This is a way for all these businesses to build a community. That's seems pretty important."

"I honestly had no idea what to expect," said Thomas Levin, owner of Best Toy Store, Tom's Toys. "This is a great honor, but look at all these businesses coming together, and people meeting and talking."

"I think what the Eagle — the new Eagle — is doing is really commutable," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli. "This is a service for the community, bringing people and businesses together."

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-7706977.


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